What Lee Elder told himself during his groundbreaking 1975 Masters

Lee Elder was a guest honorary starter on Thursday.

Getty Images

In 1975, Lee Elder became the first Black golfer to play in the Masters. Forty-six years later, Elder became a guest honorary starter in the same tournament. It was a proud moment in golf history, and a long-awaited honor for one of golf’s most iconic players.

Elder playing the Masters in the first place was such an immense event in and of itself, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Elder wasn’t at Augusta in 1975 to simply play. He was there to compete, under a level of pressure both on and off the course that nobody in golf had experienced before.

Following the opening tee shot ceremony on Thursday, Elder was asked about how he navigated such a severe level of scrutiny and pressure 46 years prior, and he started by explaining how important the fans were to helping manage his nerves.

Lee Elder waves to patrons on Thursday morning. Getty Images

“The strongest memory as I recall was how nervous I was going to the first tee … but what I remember so much about my first visit here was the fact that every tee and every green that I walked on, I got tremendous ovations,” he said. “I think when you receive something like that, it helps to settle down, because I’ll tell you, I was so nervous as we began play that it took me a few holes to kind of calm down. Getting those wonderful ovations and seeing a lot of the great friends that I had here with me at that particular time, it gave me a chance to concentrate a little bit more on the game because I was not just up looking around to see whom I could see. I was able to stick with business.”

But even then, Elder said, it’s easier said than done.

“I still had to concentrate on the game of golf, which was hard for me to do,” he said.

And whenever he felt his mind start to wander, Elder wouldn’t try to fight it. On the contrary, he said he’d allow himself to simply bathe in the moment and enjoy it.

“On several occasions, as I thought about where I was at and where I had came from, was certainly something that was a reminder, a reminder of, hey, you’ve worked for this, you have now achieved it,” he said. “Just relax and enjoy the moment. Your life is not going to depend on how well you play. You don’t have to be worrying about carrying anyone on your shoulder. You’re there just on your own. This was a goal that you had set for yourself. You have achieved it, so now relax and play some golf — and just enjoy the moment.”

Enjoy the moment. It’s such a simple message, and advice all of us can should heed during a year that has been so difficult for so many. But take if from Elder, an icon in the game of golf, with some simple advice we can all live by.

Luke Kerr-Dineen

Golf.com Contributor

Luke Kerr-Dineen is the Game Improvement Editor at GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. In his role he oversees the brand’s game improvement content spanning instruction, equipment, health and fitness, across all of GOLF’s multimedia platforms.

An alumni of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina–Beaufort golf team, where he helped them to No. 1 in the national NAIA rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to pursue his Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University. His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.