Elder went on to dominate the UGA the way Woods rules the PGA Tour, winning 18 of 22 events in one stretch. But his best days as a golfer had passed by the time he stepped to the 1st tee at the Masters in 1975. He was 40 and, as a regular on the banquet circuit in the 51 weeks between winning in Pensacola and arriving in Augusta, he had put on at least 10 pounds. His telephone never stopped ringing, and his practice habits suffered. His game lost its precision, he says now.
Though Elder may have been leery of Masters officials who had ignored black players through the years, he says Augusta National chairman Clifford Roberts greeted him upon his arrival. The media crush became so great during the week that Elder—repeatedly interrupted on his way to practice—asked officials if a pretournament press conference could be arranged, and the club obliged. The questions went on for more than three hours.
Elder tried to keep his usual routine as best he could. He ate bacon, eggs and grits in the morning and played poker and bid whist at night. He counted down to his 11:15 a.m. tee time on Thursday and arrived at the club about an hour early. He received a bouquet of flowers, sent by friends in Washington, D.C. Elder shot 74 that day and 78 the next. Though he missed the cut by four shots, he had received lusty applause at every hole.
Elder went on to play in five more Masters, his best finish a tie for 17th in 1977. He was at Augusta in '97 to watch another historic chapter in golf and race unfold (in his haste to get there, Elder was ticketed for speeding in northeast Georgia): Woods blitzed the field by 12 shots, becoming the youngest champion and the first black champion in the 61 years the tournament had been played. The victory transcended what Elder's generation had only dreamed about. The sleek 21-year-old champion happily posed for a photo with the ground-breaking Elder.
Now 73, Elder will be back at the Masters next week, a visit he has come to treasure. "Augusta National is the most gorgeous place you could be in April," he says. His face, once more, will appear in that clubhouse doorway.