It’s a testament to the timeless message that Charlie Sifford delivered over the decades that he remained relevant to the age of 92.
That message lives on today as golf mourns the passing of Sifford on Tuesday night.
All things being equal, where Sifford would stand among the all-time greats is only cause for speculation because he never received the same opportunities as he endured death threats and harassment to become the first man to break the PGA Tour’s colour barrier.
Only a couple of months ago, U.S. President Barack Obama recognized Sifford’s contribution when he presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom just a couple of months ago.
Charlie Sifford did have talent, but he also had grace and a sense of humour. I remember chatting with him in 2004 when he was being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, along with Canadian amateur legend Marlene Streit.
When he found out I was from Canada, he recalled playing the 1955 Canadian Open at Weston Golf and Country Club, notable because it was Arnold Palmer’s first tour win.
However, Sifford’s strong showing in the first round caught the King off-guard.
“Arnold came off the green, run to the scoreboard. He sees that 63 up there. He said, “Charlie Sifford. How in the hell did he shoot 63?’ recalled Sifford.
“I’m standing right behind him. I said, `the same damn way you shot 64.’ That’s how we met,” he added.
“He’s a nice fellow. He’s a nice man. We understood each other tremendously,” said Sifford.
If there was any bitterness behind that tale, Sifford wasn’t displaying it outwardly and he would go on to make a memorable speech at the induction ceremony.
All Charlie Sifford wanted to do was play golf and love golf, but there were many who denied him. The fact that he could never reach his potential was wrong, but it also served as the foundation for what was a higher cause in his life over birdies, bogeys and championships.
He never asked for it, but missions in life are often thrust upon us even if it isn’t planned. That he could come through it with dignity is what made him such an important character in golf – and society.
Sifford may be gone, but the message he brought is one that needs to carry on. Certainly in society and in golf in recent years, we’ve seen incidents in which his message still needs to be stressed.
As far as our own little microcosm is concerned, golf needs to be about camaraderie, not colour, or for that matter, gender, age, income or any other means that people use to differentiate others, include or exclude.
Charlie Sifford had a higher calling and he answered the bell, which is why we remember the man and his mission. Honour his memory by accepting is message.
RIP Charlie Sifford. You will always be the great leader.
— Richard Zokol (@RichardZokol) February 4, 2015
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.
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) February 4, 2015
Mr Charlie Sifford died tonite, the greatest African American Golfer most of you never heard of. RIP, Sir! #Presidential Medal of Honor
— Samuel L. Jackson (@SamuelLJackson) February 4, 2015
My friend Charlie Sifford has passed at 92. A pioneer, a man of grace & dignity. He loved golf. I will miss you. RIP. pic.twitter.com/r2lNnIfN2I
— Gary Player (@garyplayer) February 4, 2015