Sifford to receive highest civilian honor

Charlie Sifford, who broke the color line on the PGA Tour more than 60 years ago, will become the third golfer to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 92-year-old Sifford will join Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as golfers who have received the honor at the White House on Nov. 24 along with 18 other Americans.

“From scientists who kept America on the cutting edge to public servants who help write new chapters in our American story, these citizens have made extraordinary contributions to our country and the world,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

Sifford, who said he was inspired by Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color line in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, played in the 1952 Phoenix Open on an invitation obtained by Joe Louis, the heavyweight champion of the world.

Sifford persevered despite death threats and racial abuse from fans in the gallery at almost every tournament, including the 1961 Greater Greensboro Open, even though he was born across the state in Charlotte, N.C.

“You’re the grandpa I never had,” Tiger Woods said on Twitter after learning that Sifford would be honored by President Obama. “Your past sacrifices allow me to play golf today. I’m so happy for you Charlie.”

Sifford captured the 1961 Long Beach Open, which was not an official PGA Tour event, but was sanctioned by the tour, and later claimed official victories in the 1967 Greater Hartford Open Invitational and the 1969 Los Angeles Open.

His birdie on the first playoff hole beat Harold Henning of South Africa in that L.A. Open at Rancho Park Golf Course.

Sifford, who also won the 1975 PGA Seniors Championship, became the first African-American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004.

“Man, I’m in the Hall of Fame, the World Hall of Fame,” Sifford said in his induction ceremony speech. “Don’t forget that now! I’m in the World Hall of Fame with all the players. That little old golf I played was all right, wasn’t it?

” … I’ve lived a damn good life. I only have a few little years left, and I want to spend it happy. … Nothing bothered me, nothing stopped me. I wasn’t just trying to do this for me, I was trying to do it for the world.”

Gary Player, in introducing Sifford for induction, said: “Tonight we honor a man not just for what he accomplished on the course, but for the course he chose in life.”

Sifford, who lived in Los Angeles for several years, also was inducted into the Southern California Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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