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A Salute to Sweet Swinger
Jim Gullo
May 31, 1993
Jim Crow rules kept Teddy (Sweet Swinger) Rhodes from showing the world his great talent
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May 31, 1993

A Salute To Sweet Swinger

Jim Crow rules kept Teddy (Sweet Swinger) Rhodes from showing the world his great talent

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Rhodes refused to make a scene about the incident at the 1st hole. "Teddy told me that to get angry was the equivalent of losing your game," says Maggie Hathaway, a former golf writer and editor for the black-owned weekly Los Angeles Sentinel, who knew Rhodes well. "Getting angry made him so nervous that sometimes he drew his putter back and couldn't bring it forward."

During the rest of the '50s Rhodes played wherever and whenever he could. He won the National Negro Open title again in 1957, and he played in the first black foursome on the Western Avenue Golf Course in Los Angeles, looking on as Spiller beat Louis out of $7,000. In 1949 Rhodes married Claudia Oliver, a dancer who performed at the top black nightclubs in the country. A year later the couple had a daughter, Deborah, who is an actress living in Los Angeles.

Rhodes believed it was his duty to do as much as he could for talented young blacks who had the spirit to fight for equality on the pro circuit. Elder, who grew up in Dallas, got his first taste of tour life while traveling with Rhodes on the UGA tour from the late 1940s to the mid-'50s and caddying for him when Rhodes qualified for PGA tournaments in Detroit and St. Paul. "I saw Teddy give away so much money," says Elder. "When he went in to get golf shoes for himself, he'd say, 'Give my little friend here a pair.' 'Give my little friend an alpaca sweater.' I spent many hours under that big tree at Forest Park [a St. Louis course] hitting balls while Teddy was out there trying to make enough money for us to live on."

In Sifford, Rhodes found his opposite, a tough, mean fighter with a game solid enough to compete with those on the PGA Tour. It was Rhodes who suggested Sifford for a job as the personal pro of Billy Eckstine, the jazz singer. Rhodes and Sifford became friends and traveled together until the early 1960s, when Rhodes's health began to deteriorate.

By the time the PGA finally dropped the Caucasians-only clause, in November 1961, Rhodes was suffering from a kidney ailment that kept him bedridden for long stretches of time. He died of a heart attack in a Nashville motel on July 4, 1969.

The Western Avenue Golf Course in South Central Los Angeles, where Rhodes and Sifford were once the top players, is now called the Chester L. Washington Golf Course, named after the former publisher of the Sentinel. Located only a few blocks from the scene of last year's riots, the course is frequented by blacks, Koreans, Japanese and a few whites. In the snack bar, where gray-haired black men play dominoes, you might walk right past the photo that hangs above the jukebox. It's a picture of a handsome man finishing a golf swing with a high follow-through. There is no plaque to identify the player. Only by asking will you discover that the photo is of Teddy Rhodes.

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