[Marxism] Calvin Peete, 71, a Racial Pioneer on the PGA Tour, Is Dead

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 30 15:57:59 MDT 2015

(A great story.)

NY Times, Apr. 30 2015
Calvin Peete, 71, a Racial Pioneer on the PGA Tour, Is Dead

Calvin Peete, whose life traced one of sport’s most triumphant arcs — a 
school dropout with a crooked left arm who did not pick up a golf club 
until his 20s, did not join the pro tour until his 30s, and still became 
one of the leading players of his era and the most successful black 
professional golfer before Tiger Woods — has died. He was 71.

The Murray Brothers Funeral Home in Atlanta confirmed the death, giving 
no other information. The Associated Press reported that Peete died on 

A self-taught player who never hit especially long, Peete was one of 
golf’s most accurate drivers and fairway players. He won his first 
Professional Golfers Association tour event, the Greater Milwaukee Open, 
in 1979, and from 1982 through 1986 was among the tour’s most prolific 
champions, winning 11 tournaments, including four in 1982.

In 1984, he averaged 70.56 shots per round, winning the Vardon Trophy, 
given annually to the professional golfer with the lowest per-round 
score. In 1985, his two wins included the prestigious Tournament Players 
Championship (now the Players Championship) in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., 
a victory that Sports Illustrated described as “against the best field 
that will tee off all the year on one of the most unrelenting, 
terrorizing courses the pros play.”

 From 1976 to 1995, Peete played in 344 tournaments, winning 12, 
finishing in the top 10 73 times and earning $2.3 million.

His story is Dickensian in its down-and-out beginnings and American in 
its particular obstacles and eventual rewards. He was born in Detroit on 
July 18, 1943. According to numerous sources, his parents had nine 
children, and after they divorced, his father, Dennis, had 10 more.

Calvin lived with his father, a vegetable picker in Pahokee, Fla., in 
the south-central part of the state, and after he dropped out of school 
in the eighth grade to help feed the family, he, too, worked in the corn 
and bean fields. He was unable to do heavy work, however; at age 12, he 
had fallen out of a tree and broken his left elbow, leaving him unable 
to straighten the arm.

It was perhaps a serendipitous accident. It is a golfing dictum that for 
right-handed golfers, the left arm remains straight during a swing, but 
Peete, who never had a golf lesson before he turned pro, developed his 
own method, compensating for his handicap and developing a stroke 
uncanny in its accuracy, or, as his onetime caddy Dolphus Hill said in 
1986, “He goes flag on you.”

Peete was regularly among the tour leaders in driving accuracy and 
greens hit in regulation.

“I get my accuracy from my tempo and rhythm,” he told The New York Times 
in 1982. “I never really worked for it. It is just something that 
happened. I just seem to have a good tempo and good control as far as 
knowing just when to release the club.”

But that was long in the future. As a teenager, Peete grew tired of the 
laborious field work and eventually contrived a different way to earn 
money, managing to buy a car, traveling to farms and orchards up and 
down the East Coast and selling clothes and jewelry out of the back of 
his station wagon to migrant workers. He had no interest in golf.

“If I happened to turn the channel and see golf on television, I’d be 
like most people I knew,” he said in a 1983 interview with The Times. 
“I’d turn to a basketball game or a war movie.”

It was in Rochester, in the summer of 1966, that he tried golf for the 
first time. He was 23. Friends invited him to a fish fry, he recalled in 
a 1986 interview with Boys’ Life magazine, but they took him to a golf 
course instead.

“I couldn’t get a ride home,” he said, “so I went along with the fool idea.”

Quickly bitten by the bug, and with his selling done at night, he began 
spending days on the golf course, teaching himself by reading books. He 
took advice on his grip from the man who sold him his golf gloves, 
practiced on a baseball field, made films of his stroke and studied 
them. It took him nine years and three trips to the PGA qualifying 
school before he earned the right to join the tour, at 32, in 1975.

At the time, blacks were rare in professional golf, a sport that had a 
history of exclusion. A “Caucasian-only” clause was not rescinded by the 
PGA until 1961, and only a handful of black golfers — among them Charlie 
Sifford (who died in February), Lee Elder and Jim Dent — preceded Peete 
on the pro tour.

In 1975, Elder became the first black golfer to play in the Masters in 
Augusta, Ga. In 1980, Peete was the second.

He never played especially well at the Masters; in 1986, his best 
finish, he tied for 11th. After the 1983 tournament — during which he 
had one of his worst rounds, an 87 on the third day — he was asked his 
opinion of the traditions at the Masters.

“Until Lee Elder, the only blacks at the Masters were caddies or 
waiters,” he said. “To ask a black man what he feels about the 
traditions of the Masters is like asking him how he feels about his 
forefathers who were slaves.”

Peete’s first marriage, to Christine Sears, ended in divorce. A complete 
list of survivors was unavailable, but they include his second wife, 
Pepper, and seven children.

In 1982, Peete took — and passed — a high school equivalency test; a 
high school diploma or its equivalent was required for membership on the 
American Ryder Cup team, which represents the United States in a 
competition against a team of Europeans. Peete played on two Ryder Cup 
teams. On the 1983 squad with Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, 
Curtis Strange and other stars, he helped the United States to a narrow 

“Calvin Peete was a remarkable golfer; he overcame a lot of adversity, 
including a physical limitation, to become a very, very good golfer,” 
Nicklaus wrote on his website on Wednesday. “Over the years, we played a 
lot of golf together, and I was amazed at what he could get out of his 

Nicklaus added, “He was an extremely straight driver of the golf ball; a 
very smart golfer; and, you might say, he was very much an overachiever.”

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