How Dr. Martin Luther King had an impact on the sport of golf

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most important figures in world history and we celebrate his birthday because of his impact. But, how has his work helped change golf forever? For one, helping to open the door for Charlie Sifford among others.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is one of the greatest heroes in history. In a time where race divided the United States, Dr. King stepped in, and started a movement that would change the world forever.

To this day, it baffles me why something as minor as the color of your skin, would have such a negative impact on people. Human beings getting treated like dirt for the dumbest reason, is simply absurd, and Dr. King wanted to put an end to it.

Growing up, he battled depression, and as he started to grow, he realized something was terribly wrong with the country. He wanted to make change, and put an end to one of the worst things to ever happen in America. Segregation.

Thanks to his numerous protests, the “Greensboro Four” (Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond), a group of college students, took action. They started what famously became known as the “Greensboro Sit-ins”, which was a plan to garner media attention on race issues.

The four young men would sit in a diner, and when they weren’t served their food, they wouldn’t leave. They’d sit there until they were served, just like any other human being.

This was one of the major triggers that sparked the Civil Rights Movement forward. In turn, figures like Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X, were able to make an impact on ending segregation for good.

Although things still aren’t perfect, things have gotten immensely better, thanks to Dr. King and those around him. And now, this legend has a holiday, and it’s well worth being celebrated.

But, how have Dr. King’s efforts effected the world of golf? Well, without him, we wouldn’t have been able to see or read about the great talent that was Charlie Sifford.

Sifford, who had one of golf’s coolest swings back in the day, won two tournaments on the PGA Tour (Greater Hartford Open, and Los Angeles Open), despite receiving death threats. In a sport that is so mental, it is simply incredible how Sifford managed to tackle the issues, and go out and win two PGA Tour tourneys.

Before his victories on the Tour, Sifford was a star in the United Golf Association, winning six National Negro Open titles. Five of those he captured in a row from 1952 to 1956, and he grabbed another in 1960.

Dr. Sifford almost won three PGA Tour tournaments, when he captured the Almaden Open in 1960. This was only a year before the tournament became an official PGA Tour event, so had Dr. Sifford won it just a year later, who would’ve had three titles under his belt, under immense stress.

On top of all of this, he would go on to win a major championship, winning the prestigious PGA Seniors’ Championship (Now, the Senior PGA Championship) in 1975. He also finished tied for 21st in the U.S. Open in 1972, his best finish in one of the four major championships.

With his stellar professional golfing career, nabbing 22 worldwide wins, Sifford helped open doors for players of all colors and cultures. And his ability to crush the mental boulders that came flying his way, he became a golf legend, and an American sports hero.

He was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the University of St. Andrews in 2006, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2014. Dr. Sifford’s presence has helped open the double doors of acceptance for many great golfers over the years. Finally, Revolution Park Golf Course in Charlotte, NC, was changed to Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course, to honor the legend.

Among those included, Calvin Peete, arguably the most accurate driver in the history of the sport of golf. Peete would win 12 PGA Tour tournaments, including the Players Championship in 1985, where he hit one of best shots of the event’s history on the famed 17th hole.

His resume also included two Ryder Cup appearances while also leading the PGA Tour in driving accuracy for 10 (!!) straight years. He also fared very well in the majors, finishing tied for 11th at the 1986 Masters, tied for fourth at the 1983 U.S. Open and tied for third at the 1982 PGA Championship.

Other than Tiger Woods, Peete was the most successful black golfer in PGA Tour history. Woods, as we know, has put together a monstrous career with 14 majors, and 106 worldwide victories, including 79 on the PGA Tour, good for second all-time behind Sam Snead.

Without Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Charlie Sifford would have never gotten his chance to play professional golf, and break down the barriers. Plus, no one would have ever had the chance to witness the talent of Sifford, and would’ve missed out on a legend.

Look no further than to Ted Rhodes, who Sifford mentioned a few times during his Hall of Fame speech in 2004. Rhodes was one of the greatest golfers of all-time, collecting over 150 wins in the United Golf Association.

Sadly, he never got his shot at playing on the PGA Tour. This is similar to the story of baseball legend, Josh Gibson, who never broke into the Major Leagues, because of restrictions.

Despite this, many consider Gibson to be one of the all-time greats in baseball. I even would include him on my Mount Rushmore of baseball players with his 800 plus home runs.

And honestly, despite the fact that Rhodes never played on the PGA Tour, due to ridiculous restrictions, I still feel he’s an elite golf legend. In my honest opinion, Rhodes is one of top ten greatest golfers of all-time.

I say this because, had he had the opportunity to tee it up on the PGA Tour level, he would have grabbed at least 200 wins total. Combine the wins he’d rack up on the Tour, with the wins he already had on the UGA (150 or more), which was full of talent in those days.

Despite Rhodes sadly not making it on the Tour, it’s still awesome to say that we had players such as Sifford, Peete, Lee Elder and Pete Brown who played quality golf on Tour. These are the golfers who paved the way for current players like Woods, Harold Varner III and Mariah Stackhouse as well as other players of a variety of races.

However, there was a foundation where it all began. That would be the amazing work of one, Martin Luther King Jr. Thank you MLK.

Have any golf related memories as we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday? Perhaps a memorable round on this great holiday? Do you have any memories of the golfers that Dr. King opened doors for? Have you had the chance to play Charles Sifford Golf Course in Charlotte? Tell us all of your stories in the comments section below. You can also tweet me @ChiGolfRadio.

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