Every so often, when we're out on the links or reading/writing stories about amazing feats by unbelievably talented golfers, it's worth remembering: This is a sport that's been populated by some real jackasses.
Charlie Sifford, the legendary golfer who broke the game's color line half a century ago, doesn't need reminding. He lives it every day, even to this day. And when the L.A. Times this week asked him for his thoughts on golf's most revered tournament, he didn't hesitate:
You can probably guess what the expletive stands for. Sifford continued:
"When I was good enough to play there, the Masters never invited me, so why would they invite me now? ... I could have been invited, I should have been invited, but a long time ago they thought all golfers should be white and all caddies should be black. I've never been to Augusta and I'm never going."
Sifford spoke on the occasion of his induction into the Southern California Golf Association Hall of Fame. And if he sounds like he's still a bit bitter -- "I'm not sure about everybody calling me the Jackie Robinson of golf, because Jackie Robinson had a team behind him, and I had to do it alone" -- well, it's not really for us to judge, is it?
The team-vs.-individual aspect can't be overstated. As the L.A. Times recounts, Sifford once pulled a pin only to find the cup filled with feces. Spectators would regularly kick his ball through the rough or hide it under trash.
And Sifford bears some anger over the fact that there aren't more golfers of African-American descent on tour now; only Tiger Woods and rookie Joseph Bramlett can claim that distinction.
"This was just never a black man's game," says Sifford. "It's just too hard, too expensive. You can't just walk out off a caddie pen and play; you have to go to college. It's too much for most African-American kids."
Still, while you don't see many African-American players on the course, that doesn't mean you can't; that in itself is a shift from Sifford's time. Change is slow, and nowhere is that more true than in golf, but Sifford's sacrifices have made it possible for the game to advance beyond its narrow-minded origins. How far we've gotten since then is a matter of personal opinion.