2004: Sifford’s struggles pay off in Hall

Charlie Sifford has broken down yet another barrier. Only this one was full of joy, not pain.

Sifford on April 22 became the first African-American elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame. At first he didn’t believe it. Then, on the day of the formal announcement, he cried.

“I thought somebody was pulling my chain,” Sifford said, recalling his congratulatory telephone call from PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. “I never thought it would happen. This is wonderful.”

Sifford will be inducted Nov. 15 in St. Augustine, Fla., along with former U.S. Open champion Tom Kite, Japanese star Isao Aoki and Canadian amateur legend Marlene Stewart Streit. Their inclusion, 30 years after the induction of the first class, will raise Hall membership to 104.

Kite was elected through the PGA Tour ballot. Aoki was elected through the International ballot and Streit was chosen in the Veterans category.

Sifford, selected in the Life Achievement category, was instrumental in breaking the race barrier in professional golf. He suffered through years of pain from discrimination against blacks in society and golf. He was among the stars on the United Golf Association tour, where African-Americans competed for small purses on public courses. He was able to play a couple of PGA Tour events that allowed black golfers, but it wasn’t until 1961 that he became the first black to play full time on the PGA Tour.

The trailblazer won two PGA Tour titles – the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and 1969 Los Angeles Open. He also won the 1975 PGA Seniors’ Championship and the 1980 Suntree Classic in the Senior PGA Tour’s first season.

Sifford, 82, thanked the many players who “accepted me through the years. There were tough days, but I think everything turned out just fine. This is a blessing.”

Asked what kept him going through difficult racial times, Sifford cited fellow players who “treated me as one of them. I didn’t have the game they did, but I had the determination.”

Sifford cried when asked what his late wife, Rose, might be thinking now. “If it wasn’t for Rose . . . ” he said before breaking up. “It’s from my heart,” he said of his tears.

Kite won 19 titles on the PGA Tour, including the 1992 U.S. Open and 1989 Players Championship. His six Champions Tour victories include the 2000 Tradition.

He enters the Hall two years after his longtime teacher, the late Harvey Penick, and friend and rival Ben Crenshaw, both also from Austin, Texas.

“I was very fortunate to grow up under the great guidance of Harvey Penick and . . . going head-to-head against Ben on a daily, weekly and monthly basis,” Kite said. “When Ben and Harvey got inducted two years (ago) . . . I sat there thinking I’d do anything to get my name put on the list with them.”

Kite said the game never came easy for him, but that he enjoyed the hard-work journey that led to his ’92 Open title at Pebble Beach.

“It probably had gotten to the point a lot of people had given up on the possibility of me winning a major championship,” Kite said. “Thank goodness I didn’t give up on that dream, and it came true.”

Aoki has won 73 tournaments worldwide and is the only Japanese golfer to win on six different tours. When he holed a 128-yard wedge shot for an eagle 3 on the last hole of the 1983 Hawaiian Open, he became the first Japanese player to win on the PGA Tour. He also is known for finishing second in the 1980 U.S. Open after a memorable duel against Jack Nicklaus and for winning nine times on the Champions Tour from 1992 to 2002.

Streit – the only woman to win the U.S., British, Australian and Canadian amateur titles – is the Hall’s first Canadian inductee. Her most recent international victory came last year when, at 69, she won the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur for the third time. She’s the oldest person ever to win a U.S. Golf Association title.

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