AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A man who will not hit a single shot at the 2021 Masters this year stole the show at Augusta National on Thursday morning. Lee Elder -- the first Black man to play in the Masters back in 1975 -- was honored by Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley, active star golfers and a cadre of patrons on the first tee as Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit their ceremonial tee shots.
Elder did not participate with a swing, but he did get a standing ovation from everyone in attendance, including past champions Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson, who both made appearances in their green jackets. They were joined by the only Black player in this year's field, Cameron Champ.
Ridley announced at the 2020 Masters in November that Elder would be honored this year, and it was fantastic to see that come to fruition on Thursday, even if he did not feel fit enough to swing a club. Elder played in six Masters overall and never finished better than T17, but he won four times in his PGA Tour career and did something far more important than collecting major championship trophies.
Elder paved the way -- even amid threats and animosity -- for future Black golfers to compete at the highest level. That's no small feat, and given the fact that the best player of all-time is also Black and also made history at Augusta National, it's one of the under-celebrated realities in golf history. That changed this week and specifically on the first tee on Thursday morning.
"Well, I certainly want to say thank you so very much for this great opportunity," said Elder. "For me and my family, I think it was one of the most emotional experiences that I have ever witnessed or been involved in. It is certainly something that I will cherish for the rest of my life because I have loved coming to Augusta National and playing here the times that I have played here with many of my friends that are members here, and at the request and invitation of Buzzy Johnson, who has also had me.
"But to me, my heart is very soft this morning. Not heavy soft, soft because of the wonderful things that I have encountered since arriving here on Monday and being able to see some of the great friends that I have made over the past years, especially like these two gentlemen that are here. We have competed against each other, and we have certainly enjoyed a lot of pleasant moments. I just want to say thank you so very much to have me here. It's a great honor, and I cherish it very much, and I will always cherish it, and I want to thank the chairman for extending me this great privilege."