Sifford: Golf is the greatest game ever invented

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 24, 2011

By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
Charlie Sifford wasn’t thinking about making headlines or becoming a legend in 1961 when he integrated the Professional Golf Association Tour.
Sifford, 89, simply wanted to play the game.
“This game of golf took me many places. It wasn’t easy, but it was something I wanted to do,” Sifford said Thursday night at Livingstone College’s Sixth Annual Faith-Based Celebrity Golf Tournament banquet. “When I was a little boy they paid me 60 cents to caddie and I learned how to play golf. I’m so glad I was able to caddy because I learned how to play golf.”
Sifford, who turned 89 on June 2, spoke briefly while delivering the keynote address in Livingstone’s Events & Hospitality Center. He said golf is the greatest game ever invented. He also said it can be frustrating trying to place the ball where you want it to land.
“It’s very complicated, but you can’t get angry with it because the madder you get the worse you’re going to play,” he said to heavy laughter. “It’s a wonderful game and you should try it, but don’t give up. If you can’t get your ball to go where you want it to go, try again. It’s a wonderful game, and it’ll keep you young, too.”
Sifford encouraged those in attendance to keep working at golf, which requires patience and intellect. And he acknowledged skipping school as a youngster just so he could play.
“They put me out of school because I’d run up to the golf course,” Sifford said. “I’m not too happy about missing all that school, but I’m glad I ran up to that golf course.”
By integrating golf, Sifford paved the way for Lee Elder to become the first black man to play in the Master’s Tournament in 1975 and for Tiger Woods to eventually dominate the game. In 2004, Sifford became the first black man inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
He was introduced Thursday night by Livingstone College Golf Coach Andre Springs. Sifford and Springs’ grandfather, Russell McLaughlin, are friends.
“You’ll hear Charlie Sifford, you’ll hear Dr. Sifford and you’ll hear Big Daddy, and when I talk that’s where I’ll be coming from,” Springs said during the introduction. “Charlie Sifford has always been a big part of my life since I was a kid.
“I look at Charlie Sifford today, and it just puzzles me,” Springs continued. How can a man go through the things that he has gone through in his life and make it to the other side with his head up? He never gave up and shot even par at the age of 13. Did you hear me? It took me years to hit even par.”
The Rev. Clifton Davis, an actor who portrayed a reverend in the hit sitcom “Amen” with Sherman Hemsley and Anna Maria Horsford and also starred in the ’70s show “That’s My Mama,” served as banquet emcee. Davis is an avid golfer.
“I’m glad to be here,” Davis said. “You might not win the golf tournament tomorrow but we can all be winners.”
Davis, who has participated in Livingstone’s tournament since its inception, reminded attendees that money raised — including from items sold at a silent auction held during the banquet — would benefit the college’s students.
“When you think of Dr. Sifford, this man is literally the Jackie Robinson of golf, so it is indeed an honor for us to have him here,” Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr. said.
The tournament at The Country Club of Salisbury begins today at 8:30 a.m. Sifford will attend today’s tournament and is expected to sign copies of his book, “Just Let Me Play: The Story of Charlie Sifford, the first black PGA Golfer.”