As Tiger Woods stepped to the first tee Sunday afternoon, a gentle breeze blew. "You know the reason the breeze is here?" Lee Elder asked, as soon as he felt it. "It is here to bring in the nice fresh atmosphere that is going to happen after this day is over."
Twenty-two years ago, Elder became the first black golfer to play the Masters. Sunday, he returned to see the first black win it."This is so significant sociologically," he said. "It's more significant to me, even, than Jackie Robinson breaking the (baseball) color line."
What it means, Elder said, is that millions of black children all around the world will discover the game of golf for the first time. What it means, he said, is this: "After today, we will have a situation where no one will even turn their head to notice when a black person walks to the first tee."
Elder had watched the first three rounds on television at home in Pompano Beach, Fla. He was so excited by Woods' nine-stroke lead that he couldn't fall asleep until 3 a.m. Sunday. At 5 a.m., he was awake; at 7:30, on a plane from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta; at 11 or so, pulled over for speeding on I-20.
"Doing 85 miles an hour in a 70 zone," he confessed. "I told the officer, `I've got to get to the Masters to see Tiger Woods win.' He didn't buy it. I got a ticket."
Elder got here in time to visit briefly with Woods before the round - to embrace him and wish him luck. "That meant a lot to me," Woods said. "He was the first (to play here), the one I looked up to. Seeing him inspired me, reinforced what I had to go out there and do."
As Elder waited for Woods' round to begin, he reminisced.
He remembered that, when he qualified for the Masters in '75, he got many "harsh" letters from people who didn't want him to play here. He still has some of them, all these years later.
Otherwise, he had only good things to say Sunday about his treatment in the Masters. "I had a wonderful time," he said, "except for how I played." His best finish in six Masters was a tie for 17th in '79.
He recalled that, when he missed the cut in '75, he knew that someday he'd return to see a black man don the green jacket.
"I didn't think it would be someone so young" as the 21-year-old Woods, he said, "and I certainly didn't think it would be by this wide a margin." Indeed, no one would have expected the youngest Masters champ ever to win by the widest margin ever with the lowest score ever.
Quite a weekend.
Watching Sunday from his Houston home, Charlie Sifford - who became the PGA's first black player in 1962 and believes the Masters went to extraordinary lengths to exclude him - said: "For 38 years I've been hoping something like this would happen. I got too old to be able to do it myself. . . . The black kids still will have to find places to play. But what (Woods) has done certainly will have some effect on interest toward the game."