It has been 25 years since I became the first African-American to play in the Masters, and time has healed many wounds. For months before the 1975 Masters I got letters that said things like "You'll never be able to tee it up in Augusta." Others said, "I'll see you at Augusta, and I'll find out where you're staying."
I was so scared that first year that I rented two houses—one on Wheeler Road not too far from the course and another on Washington Road—so people wouldn't know where I was staying. I went back and forth between the houses during the week. I was assigned a couple of bodyguards to follow my every step, but they never followed me off the course. So when I went out at night that week, I made sure I brought along at least 10 of the 55 friends and family members who had come to watch me play.
Things got worse before they got better. The second time I played the Masters, in 78, the novelty of having a black in the tournament had worn off, but some fans were still not ready to accept me. I heard people in the gallery say, "Here comes that nigger," but whenever that was said, everyone's attention turned to that person, making it clear that the speaker was out of line.
Things have changed considerably. When my wife, Sharon, and I arrived at Augusta last week, we needed no security and heard no racial epithets. Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson greeted us, just as Clifford Roberts had a quarter century ago. The only difference was that Mr. Roberts's welcome was suspect while Mr. Johnson's greeting was warm and sincere.
Much remains to be accomplished. Twenty-five years after my debut in the Masters I'm disappointed that only one African-American, Eldrick (Tiger) Woods, was in the field. Hopefully, through programs like my Lee Elder National Junior Golf Program, more Elders and Eldricks will play at Augusta National.