Sifford dies at age 92

Charlie Sifford, who broke golf’s color barrier, died Tuesday night in Cleveland, Ohio, of cardiac arrest at the age of 92.

Sifford, who recently suffered a stroke, was the first black member of the PGA Tour, and endured racial taunts and death threats at tournaments, most notably when he played in the 1961 Greater Greensboro Open in Greensboro, N.C.

“His love of golf, despite many barriers in his path, strengthened him as he became a beacon for diversity in our game,” said Derek Sprague, president of the PGA of America.

“By his courage, Dr. Sifford inspired others to follow their dreams. Golf was fortunate to have had this exceptional American in our midst.”

Sifford, who was born in Charlotte, N.C., and lived for several years in Los Angeles during and after his playing days, successfully challenged the PGA Tour’s “Caucasians Only” rule, which was rescinded in 1961.

Among his 22 professional victories were the 1967 Greater Hartford Open in 1967 and the 1969 Los Angeles Open at Rancho Park Golf Course, where he beat Harold Henning of South Africa in a Playoff.

Sifford also captured 1957 Long Beach Open, an unofficial PGA Tour event, and the 1975 Senior PGA Championship, five years before the Champions Tour was created. He won the 1980 Suntree Classic, his only victory on what started out as the Senior PGA Tour.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that without Charlie, and the other pioneers who fought to play, I may not be playing golf,” Tiger Woods said late last year. “My pop likely wouldn’t have picked up the sport, and maybe I wouldn’t have either.”

Upon hearing of Sifford’s death, Woods wrote on Twitter: “Terrible loss for golf and me personally. My grandfather is gone and we all lost a brave, decent and honorable man. I’ll miss u Charlie.”

In 2004, Sifford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., and last November was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in a ceremony at the White House.

Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus are the only other golfers to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Charlie won tournaments, but more important, he broke a barrier,” Nicklaus once said. “I think what Charlie Sifford has brought to his game has been monumental.”

Sifford received an honorary degree from the University of St. Andrews as a Doctor of Laws in 2006.

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