Charlie Sifford’s Cigar
Posted: Jun 26, 2008 2:59pm ET
I attended a banquet this week of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. There were a number of honorees, including Judy Rankin and Gary Player, but the Gold Tee award, the group’s highest honor, went to Charlie Sifford, the 86-year-old former PGA Tour professional who broke golf’s color barrier at the professional level.
Sifford regaled the crowd with tales of his early days on the PGA Tour, and thanked everyone for putting him in the company of previous award winners, a distinguished group that includes Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Byron Nelson, and Sam Snead. Last year’s winner was Ernie Els.
Sifford won his PGA Tour card in 1961, forcing the rewriting of the Tour’s “Caucasians-only” rule. He went to win twice on the PGA Tour, and as one of the original members of the Senior Tour, captured its Open Championship in 1975. Sifford also noted that he had endured some “tough times” playing on the tour where he was the subject of threats and racial epitaphs. Player, who introduced Sifford at the banquet, spoke of how courageous his friend of more than 50 years had been during his playing days.
Sifford was also known for playing with a lit cigar. He said he was once asked about why he played with it, almost never removing it from his mouth. He said that on a full swing, he could tell if he was swaying off the ball because the cigar would move and point away from the ball. And, the same thing on his putts; if the ball moved off the end of the burning cigar, he knew he was moving his head and could stop it.
Now I know why I need to smoke more out on the course.
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