Originally created 04/23/04

Sifford breaks another barrier



Charlie Sifford broke another barrier Thursday.

Sifford, who cracked the PGA Tour's Caucasian-only clause in 1961 and was the first black member to win on tour, is the first black chosen for the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Sifford will be inducted Nov. 15, along with 1992 U.S. Open champion Tom Kite, Japanese star Isao Aoki and Canadian amateur Marlene Stewart Streit.

"This is very wonderful," Sifford said from the ceremony in Savannah, Ga. "I thank all these wonderful players for accepting me. I know I had some bad days and tough days. But it looks like everything worked out fine."

Streit is the first Canadian in the Hall of Fame. She won the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur title last year at 69, her sixth decade of winning an elite amateur title.

Kite, a 19-time winner and seven-time Ryder Cup player, was elected through the PGA Tour ballot. Aoki was elected through the International ballot.

That brings membership in the World Golf Hall of Fame to 104. No one from the LPGA Tour will be inducted unless Laura Davies wins two tournaments or a major this year.

Sifford was a true pioneer, along with Teddy Rhodes, Pete Brown, Lee Elder, Bill Spiller and other blacks who kept playing with hopes of getting a chance on the PGA Tour.

Tiger Woods paid tribute to them when he won the '97 Masters for his first major, and he spoke in October about the absence of blacks in golf's Hall of Fame.

"They never had a chance to play," Woods said. "Whether it's pioneers like Teddy Rhodes or Bill Spiller or Charlie, they fought all those years just to get on the tour. It's going to be very difficult for them to gain acceptance because of the fact they had no playing record on tour.

"One person who should get in, without a doubt, is Charlie."

Sifford was elected through the Lifetime Achievement category and said he was stunned when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem called with the news.

"It's a wonderful honor, one I've been waiting on a long time," he said.

Sifford was among the stars on the United Golf Association tour, where blacks could compete for small purses on public courses. He was able to play a couple of PGA Tour events that allowed blacks, although he paid a price.

In the 1952 Phoenix Open, Sifford and his all-black foursome found excrement in the cup on the first hole, and waited nearly an hour for the cup to be replaced.

Sifford won the 1957 Long Beach Open against a field that included Gene Littler, Jack Fleck and Tommy Bolt, although it wasn't an official PGA Tour victory because it was only 54 holes.

As pressure increased on the PGA Tour, Sifford was granted a tour card in 1960, and the Caucasian-only clause was lifted a year later.

Still, Sifford's homecoming to North Carolina to play in the 1961 Greater Greensboro Open included a telephone death threat and racial slurs hurled at him as he walked the fairways. He tied for fourth.

In his book, "Just Let Me Play," Sifford wrote, "I hadn't won the tournament in Greensboro, but I felt a larger victory. I had come through my first Southern tournament with the worst kind of social pressure and discrimination around me, and I hadn't cracked. I hadn't quit."

Sifford won the 1967 Greater Hartford Open by closing with a 64 for a one-shot victory over Steve Oppermann. Two years later at Rancho Park, he birdied the first hole of a playoff to beat Harold Henning in the Los Angeles Open.

Kite was one of the steadiest players of his generation. He finished in the top 20 on the PGA Tour money list 15 consecutive seasons and twice won the money title.

His most productive year was 1989, when his three victories included The Players Championship and the Tour Championship, and Kite was voted player of the year.

But the season that mattered was 1992. Kite was responsible for the label now known as "Best Player to Have Never Won a Major," and he got rid of it with a gutsy final round in strong wind at Pebble Beach to win the U.S. Open.

"It's been a longtime dream and hope of getting inducted into the Hall of Fame," Kite said. "It's quite a thrill."

Aoki was not as prolific a winner in Japan as Jumbo Ozaki, but his game traveled well. He became the first Japanese player to win a PGA Tour event in 1983, when he holed out for eagle on the last hole to win the Hawaiian Open. He also finished second to Jack Nicklaus in the 1980 U.S. Open.

Streit's first major title was the Canadian Ladies' Amateur in 1951, which she went on to win 11 times. She won the U.S. Women's Amateur and the British Ladies' Amateur in 1953, and continued to win big titles throughout her career.

"I played golf all my life for the love of the game," Streit said. "This is very huge for Canada, and I'm just proud. My greatest thrill in golf has been playing for my country."