Sifford leads new Hall of Fame inductees
Charlie Sifford waved his crystal trophy before the crowd gathered in front of the World Golf Hall of Fame, unable to contain his smile.
Moments later, when he looked out at Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and other Hall of Famers who celebrated his historic induction Monday night, Sifford bowed his head and softly tapped the podium with his fist, squeezing his eyes as he choked back tears.
"This makes me feel like I'm a worthwhile professional golfer," Sifford said.
A man whose autobiography defined his career -- "Just Let Me Play" -- took his place among golf's greatest figures when Sifford became the first black inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Joining Sifford in a most diverse class of inductees was Canadian amateur Marlene Stewart Streit; Japanese star Isao Aoki; and former U.S. Open champion Tom Kite, whose endless work ethic brought him 19 victories.
Sifford paid his dues like no other.
He risked ridicule and threats breaking through the Caucasian-only clause on the PGA, finally rescinded in 1961 after Sifford became the first black on tour.
Someone left feces in the cup at the Phoenix Open. Fans kicked his ball in the rough. Telephone calls in the middle of the night warned him not to show up at the golf course. Sifford played on, winning twice on the PGA Tour and later capturing the 1975 Senior PGA Championship.
"Tonight we honor a man not only for his accomplishments on the course, but the course he took in life," Player said in his introduction of the 82-year-old Sifford. "Persistence is an ingredient that is essential to success, and Charlie had that persistence."
The induction brought membership in the hall to 104, and a plea from Sifford that he not be the last black.
He paid tribute to Teddy Rhodes and Bill Spiller, who paved the way for him in the blacks-only United Golf Association; to Lee Elder, who became the first black to play in the Masters in 1975; and to Calvin Peete, Jim Dent and Jim Thorpe, blacks who later succeeded on the PGA Tour.
"Charlie's induction reminds us how far we have come as a country and a game," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. "But it also reminds us how far we have to go."
Kite was among the steadiest performers, finishing in the top 20 on the PGA Tour money list 15 consecutive years and twice winning the money title. His most productive year was 1989, when he won The Players Championship, the Tour Championship and was voted PGA Tour Player of the Year.
Aoki won 73 times around the world and is the only Japanese player to win on six tours. He is best known for holing out for eagle on the 18th hole in the 1983 Hawaiian Open to become the first Japanese player to win on the PGA Tour.
"I think he's the Arnold Palmer of Japanese golf," said Greg Norman, who introduced him. "To travel from your home shores is not an easy task."
Streit became the first Canadian inducted into the Hall of Fame, an amazing amateur career in which she won six national titles and last year captured the U.S. Senior Amateur at 69.
"This is beyond any wildest dreams I could ever think of having," Streit said. "I'm proud to be the first Canadian. To see the Canadian flag flying here at the World Golf Hall of Fame is simply magic."
Sifford had only five goals in golf -- become a PGA Tour member, win a PGA event, play in the U.S. Open, play in the Masters and get inducted into the Hall of Fame.
His only regret is never getting into the Masters. Although he won the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 Los Angeles Open, the Masters did not start inviting PGA Tour winners until a few years later.
"I got four out of five," Sifford said. "I think the Hall of Fame is much greater than the Masters."
His speech was the highlight of a cool, breezy night at the World Golf Village, a mixture of tears as he remembered his late wife, Rose, and laughter as he told of meeting Palmer for the first time in the 1955 Canadian Open.
Sifford opened with a 63 and led Palmer by one. He recalled Palmer standing in front of the scoreboard saying, "Charlie Sifford? How the hell did he shoot 63?"
"I'm standing right behind him," Sifford said. "I said, 'The same damn way you shot 64.' That's how we met."
Sifford was elected through the Lifetime Achievement category. Finchem called him in April to let him know he was in the Hall of Fame, and Sifford has been anticipating this night ever since.
"The five months I had to wait were harder than the 52 years I played," he said. "I wanted to be damn sure I'd be here tonight."
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