Honorary degree for golfing great

Sunday 16 April 2006

The University of St Andrews is to give an Honorary Degree to Charlie Sifford, the father of African American golf and the man whose career began the dismantling of racial barriers in the sport.

Mr Sifford (84) will travel to the home of golf in June this year where Scotland’s oldest University will confer upon him a Degree of Doctor of Laws in a ceremony at the town’s Younger Hall.

Dr Brian Lang, Principal and Vice- Chancellor of the University of St Andrews, said:

“Charlie Sifford is a pioneer of the Civil Rights era whose career exemplifies courage, determination and the will to succeed in the face of substantial prejudice and adversity.

“He changed the landscape of sport and his story is one which should challenge and inspire us all.

“It is absolutely fitting that this man, his unique character, his dignity and his gift to golf should be honoured by St Andrews in St Andrews. We are delighted that he has accepted our offer of an Honorary Degree and will be with us in June at graduation.”

Charlie Sifford, who Tiger Woods describes as his “honorary grandfather”, is an iron willed golf pro who spent his career fighting for inclusion.

He challenged the PGA’s Caucasian- only clause to become its first black member in 1960 at a time when the only blacks on tour were caddies. During his career he endured death threats, heard racial slurs shouted from the galleries, was refused entry to clubhouses and in the 1952 Phoenix Open found human faeces in the cup when he and partner Joe Louis got to the first green.

He won the Hartford Open in 1967 and two years later took the Los Angeles Open. He played 422 events on the PGA tour and made 399 cuts.

Despite being the top black player on tour in the 60s, he was never invited to play in the Masters.

In his autobiography “Just Let Me Play” he recalls meeting Jackie Robinson at the time Robinson was trying to break the colour barrier in major league baseball and Sifford was taking his first steps as a pro.

“He asked me if I was a quitter,” Sifford said. “I told him no. He said, ‘If you’re not a quitter, there’s going to be a lot of obstacles you’re going to have to go through to be successful in what you’re trying to do.’

“I made up my mind I was going to do it. I just did it. Everything worked out perfect I think.”

Golf went some way to repaying its debt to Charlie Sifford when he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004, the first black player to be honoured.

He chose the white South African Gary Player to induct him.

“I have such admiration for this man,” said Player, who also holds an Honorary Degree from St Andrews.

“I take my hat off to him…The hypocrisy that Charlie had to put up with! Yet I don’t find Charlie bitter, I find him compassionate. I have a great love and empathy for Charlie. I’ve seen an improvement in golf’s stance toward blacks, and Charlie has played a significant role in that improvement.

“Persistence is an ingredient that is essential to success, and Charlie had that persistence.

“To receive an honorary doctorate at the University of St. Andrews, one of the oldest in the world and in the town of the Home of Golf, is a very special honor – an honor Charlie is most deserved of.”

Charlie Sifford will be made a Doctor of Laws by the University of St Andrews at a Graduation Ceremony on Thursday June 22nd 2006 at Younger Hall.

He will travel to Scotland with a group of young American golfers, courtesy of the Young Golfers of America Association which promotes education and reaches out to disadvantaged children, mostly minorities, through golf.

The University of St Andrews has a history of honouring sports personalities, particularly golfers, whose lives have been inspirational to others. It has previously conferred Honorary Degrees on Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie, Peter Thomson, Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus and Peter Alliss.

Issued by Beattie Communications on behalf of the University of St Andrews. Contact : Niall Scott, tel 01334 462244, mobile 07711 223062

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