6 Moments That Made Golf Culturally Important

Mike DudurichContributor IAugust 29, 2012

6 Moments That Made Golf Culturally Important

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    They almost seem mutually exclusive: "golf" and "culturally significant."

    But after a bit of thinking and a little research, there have been some moments in the game that have affected society.

    No, not John Daly trying to re-enact Tin Cup by dunking ball after ball at Bay Hill Country Club before writing down a 16 on his scorecard.

    No, it's not Colin Montgomerie and his world-famous rabbit ears getting into it with fans.

    There have actually been things that change how we think, how we spectate and how we choose our heroes.

    Here are six of those.

Charlie Sifford Was the First Black Player in a PGA Event

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    For years and years, golf had the well-deserved tag of being a sport for the rich and the white.

    That tag was not limited to just the recreational aspect of the game or the country club level. It was very much a part of the professional game until 1961.

    As civil rights battles were waged across the country, reality came to the PGA when its Caucasians-only clause was stricken from its constitution.

    For the first time in the relatively short history of the PGA, black men could be on the golf course during a tournament doing something other than carrying a bag.

    Charlie Sifford became the first player to break the color barrier, playing in the Greater Greensboro Open that year.

Annika Sorenstam Tees It Up with the Boys

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    Annika Sorenstam had a Hall of Fame career on the LPGA Tour, winning 72 times, but in 2003 she took a step that would make waves throughout sports, do a great deal for women’s sports and cast women’s golf in a new light.

    On May 23, Sörenstam stepped on the first tee at Colonial Country Club and played in the PGA Tour’s Bank of America Colonial tournament.

    When she did, she became the first female golfer to play with the guys since Babe Zaharias did so in the Los Angeles Open in 1945.

    Sorenstam shot a one-over par 71 in the first round and had a chance to make the cut, but putting woes in the second round resulted in her missing the cut.

    She was cheered on every hole by the crowds, but she was criticized by Tour players like Vijay Singh, Rich Beem and Dean Wilson for playing.

    Sorenstam’s appearance opened the door of possibilities for young female golfers to follow in her footsteps.

    Michelle Wie has been the only female to play in a PGA Tour event since.

Se Ri Pak Opens LPGA Floodgates for Korean Golfers

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    Se Ri Pak dominated the LPGA of Korea Tour as a teenager, winning six tournaments in 1996 and 1997 before moving to the United States as a 20-year-old.

    Ten years later she was inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame, a tribute to how she dominated the LPGA Tour in the United States.

    But even more importantly, when she got off an airplane for the first time in the U.S., little did anyone know how the success she was about to have would change the appearance of women’s professional golf in the United States forever.

    Her success encouraged masses of unknown Korean golfers to come to the United States to try to emulate what Pak had done.

    The golf machine in that Southeast Asia country cranked out outstanding player after outstanding player and now the LPGA is dominated by Koreans and has a much larger worldwide reach.

Arnold Palmer: Golf's Biggest Superstar in the Early Days

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    The muscular young man from Latrobe, Pa., had it all when he hit the PGA Tour in 1954.

    Good looks, a confident swagger, a fearlessness on the course that golf fans loved and, oh yeah, he could play a little, too.

    It didn’t take him long to become golf’s most popular star and, as such, he became the first superstar of golf’s television age.

    He was the reason people started tuning in to watch golf, especially the game’s biggest events.

    He brought golf to the people and there was never a better fit: Palmer and Arnie’s Army.

    Palmer laid the groundwork for the regular guy to get involved and grow the game.

Getting to the “Winner’s” Circle: Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Calvin Peete

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    It was one thing for black golfers to be able to play on the PGA Tour, but very much another thing for one of them to get a victory.

    Charlie Sifford recorded the first victory, the 1967 Greater Hartford Open.

    While he didn’t win, there were many who believed Lee Elder recorded another sort of win when he became the first black golfer to play in the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

    Through the mid-1980s the biggest victory recorded by a black golfer was the 1985 Players Championship, won by Calvin Peete with a then-course record score of 274.

    The Players is not a major championship, but it is the biggest event outside the majors.

This Tiger Had the Golf World by the Tail

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    Golf fans had heard for years about this youngster, Tiger Woods. They saw him, as a tot, whack a ball on The Michael Douglas Show. They heard about his exploits in junior golf and then waited breathlessly for his arrival on the PGA Tour.

    That moment came in a big, big way at the Augusta National Golf Club in the 1997 Masters.

    Woods was playing in his first major that April and became the youngest Masters champion at 21 years, three months old. He blasted the field, winning by a record 12 strokes and setting the 72-hole scoring mark of 270 or 18-under par.

    Woods became the first golfer of either Asian or African descent to win a men’s major.

    But more importantly, Woods’ domination of Augusta as a young man blew open the doors to the golf kingdom for minority youth, who now had a hero to latch on to.

    His 12-year run as golf’s biggest superstar turned millions of inner city youths on to golf, spurred the growth of the First Tee program and made golf must-see TV when he’s playing.