On 10 November 1957, Charlie Sifford won the Long Beach Open, becoming the first black golfer to win a tournament against a predominantly white field of players. The victory came in an era when the likes of Jackie Robinson (baseball) and Joe Louis (boxing) took firm stances against the colour barrier and Caucasian-only policies.
By 1960, California attorney general Stanley Mosk was putting pressure on the PGA to lift the barrier, stating that, if his demands weren’t met, the PGA would not be able to compete in various areas across the country. The PGA caved in a year later, and it all started with Sifford’s success.
Sifford, who by then, at 34, had already won the National Black Open four times, recorded rounds of 69, 70 and 64 in the 54-hole tournament, for a total of 203.
His rivals that day included stars such as Billy Casper, Jay Hebert, Gene Littler, Jerry Barber, Gay Brewer, Tony Lema, Tommy Bolt, Harry Cooper and Mike Souchak. Faced with racism, intolerance and indecency, Sifford defied all odds by playing spectacular and focused golf. His victory was settled in a sudden-death play-off, defeating Eric Monti on the third extra hole.
or his triumph at Long Beach, Sifford pocketed $1,700, more than the total he had earned for a whole year. Of that prizemoney, $500 was awarded for registering the best final round of the tournament (64); while Monti took home $1,100 for his second place finish.
Earlier that year, Sifford had won $240 at the Rubber City Open in Akron (Ohio), and $880 at the Baltimore Easter Open, where he finished fifth.
Two days after his triumph, the PGA of America would hold its annual national meeting, right there in Long Beach. The PGA was the same group that had a clause in its constitution which allowed only Caucasians to be members of the association and, therefore, prohibited non-whites from participating in tournaments on its circuit.
Four years later, at the 1961 annual meeting in Hollywood (Florida), on 10 November, the PGA of America removed that discriminatory clause from its constitution and paved the way for African-Americans to become members of the PGA and, therefore, play on the Tour.
Shortly after, Sifford became the first black golfer to compete on the PGA Tour as a full member, making 10 November a very special day in his career and that of other African-American golfers who followed him.
Even after his victory at Long Beach, Sifford was still not allowed to play in PGA Tour tournaments in the following weeks. With the help of California attorney general Stanley Mosk, three years later Sifford would receive full PGA membership. Two years before he was granted that right, he played in the 1959 US Open and finished 32nd. He then won two official Tour tournaments: the 1967 Grand Hartford Open and 1969 Los Angeles Open.
In November 2014, 57 years after his historic victory at Long Beach, Sifford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The 92- year-old was one of 19 recipients of the medal and just the third professional golfer to be granted the honour, following Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Sifford, who resorted to playing in National Negro Opens because of the PGA Tour's "Caucasian-only" policy, won six of those titles before being allowed to play on the Tour. He was routinely harassed, threatened and excluded from golf club amenities because of his race.
The golfer who broke golf's colour barrier went on to win twice on the PGA Tour and was eventually inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004. "I wasn't just trying to do this for me: I was trying to do it for the world," Sifford has said.
Tiger Woods, who took to Twitter to sing Sifford's praises when he was nominated for the award, posted a heartfelt message on his Instagram account. His caption read, "History was made last night by my grandpa. Thanks Charlie for inspiring Pop, who then in turn inspired me and others like us. Heroic fight and you won."
At the ceremony, President Obama recounted a story in which Sifford's ball was kicked into the rough by spectators. "Charlie's laughing at that," President Obama said, the crowd laughing along. "My ball is always in the rough." Sifford smiled humbly as the crowd applauded, Obama draping the medal around his neck.
On 3 February 2015, aged 92, Charlie Sifford died in Cleveland (Ohio), the first African-American to win a US PGA Tour event.