Sat, Feb 21, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Johnson benefits from pioneer’s legacy


On the clubhouse balcony at Riviera, Vincent Johnson hardly looked like a player about to make his US PGA Tour debut.

For one thing, he was dressed smartly in a dark suit and tie.

He also stood out because of the color of his skin.

In the dozen years since Tiger Woods joined the tour, the number of black players at events have been few.

Johnson might not have received the chance to play in the Northern Trust Open if not for a newly created exemption that honors a pioneer.

In a ceremony on Wednesday, he was introduced as the first recipient of the Charlie Sifford Exemption, which goes to a player who represents the advancement of diversity in golf.

“It’s just been a little surreal, this whole thing,” Johnson said. “Finding out that I was just a candidate, I was really honored because of what Mr Sifford stands for.”

Sifford was the first black American to become a tour member in 1961 after spending the prime of his career in what seemed like a hopeless campaign against the US PGA’s whites-only clause. The last of his two victories came 40 years ago this month at the Los Angeles Open, held that year at Rancho Municipal Golf Course.

Johnson faces long odds of becoming a regular on the tour, although nothing like Sifford endured — the death threats, the court battles, even finding feces in a cup when he did manage to play.

“My struggle to hopefully get to the PGA Tour one day won’t be as difficult as his was, but you take inspiration from stories like that,” Johnson said.

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