Lee Elder, who broke down racial barriers as the first black golfer to play in the Masters and paved the way for Tiger Woods and others to follow, has died at the age of 87.
The PGA Tour announced Elder's death, which was first reported Monday by Debert Cook of African American Golfers Digest. No cause was given, but the Tour confirmed Elder's death with his family.
He had been in poor health and wore an oxygen tube beneath his nose when he appeared at the opening of the Masters in April.
The Tour said he died early Sunday in Escondido, California.
"Lee was a good player, but most important, a good man who was very well respected by countless people," Jack Nicklaus wrote on his Twitter account.
"The game of golf lost a hero in Lee Elder."
A Texan who developed his game during segregated times while caddying and hustling for rounds, Elder made history in 1975 at Augusta National, which had held an all-white tournament until he received an invitation after winning the Monsanto Open the previous year.
RIGHT: Lee Elder in action at Augusta National in the 1970s, when he was the first black player to compete in the Masters. PHOTO: Getty Images.
Elder missed the cut at his first Masters but forever stamped himself as a ground-breaking figure in a sport that had never been known for racial tolerance.
Twenty-two years later, Woods became the first Black golfer to capture the green jacket, launching one of the greatest careers in golf history.
After his record 12-stroke victory in 1997 – the first of five Masters and 15 major titles that Woods has won – he reflected on the contributions of Black golfers such as Elder and Charlie Sifford.
"I wasn't the first. I wasn't the pioneer. I thank them. I think that's why this victory is even more special.
"Lee, because of what he did, I was able to play here. Because of Charlie, I was able to play on the PGA Tour," Woods said that night.
This past April, the Masters honoured Elder by having him join Nicklaus and Gary Player for the ceremonial opening tee shots.
Elder's poor health prevented him from taking a swing, but he held up his driver proudly at the first tee, clearly moved by the moment.
"Lee was a good player, but most important, a good man who was very well respected by countless people. The game of golf lost a hero in Lee Elder." - Jack Nicklaus.
"For me and my family, I think it was one of the most emotional experiences that I have ever witnessed or been involved in," Elder said.
Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National and the Masters, called Elder "a true pioneer in the game of golf".
During his career, Elder won four events on the PGA Tour, including the 1974 Monsanto Open which qualified him for the following year's Masters, and later recorded eight wins on the Seniors Tour.
In his early years on the Tour he faced prejudice, at times being made to change clothes in the car park, and death threats, the latter especially when he first qualified for The Masters, the host club of which, Augusta National, did not admit a black member until 1990.
Elder went on to play in five more Masters and 34 major championships, recording seven top-25 finishes.
He tied for 11th at both the 1974 PGA Championship and the 1979 U.S. Open. His best Masters finish was in 1979 when he finished in a share of 17th place.