A Hero on the Field Nobody Off It
Althea Gibson died Sunday at the age of 76. She was the first black player to try the LPGA, before that, a world-class tennis player who won Wimbledon in 57 and 58. Unfortunately for her ' and us, incidentally ' she happened along during the era of racial stupidity. Ignorance was not just a fault of the country; it was a huge dark stain on the national conscience.
Althea was an outstanding tennis player in the 50s and a professional golfer for a decade, beginning in the early 60s. Sports heroes who happened to be borned black may have been treated better than their dark-skinned brothers in this age of illiteracy, but only marginally so. Black athletes were appreciated for their athletic skills, but when the lights went out and everyone went home from the arena, the situation reverted back to what it always had been. Jackie Robinson might have been a hero while he was playing games with the Dodgers, but the other 18 hours of the day, he was just a Negro, something less than human.
The same with Althea. She was a problem child in Harlem, a young tough who often ran away from home. At the age of 12, her father wanted her to be a prizefighter ' though, of course, there was no such thing as female prizefighters. She had ideas of her own, however, and occupied her time whacking a rubber ball off a brick wall. She met Fred Johnson, a one-armed tennis coach, and set about learning to play.
Gibson rose to athletic stardom and learned about the ignorance of racial prejudice at roughly the same time. It was nasty being a tennis star ' she was a major household name on the court, but much less off it. It was even worse when she became a professional golfer in 1963.
Never particularly strident in her beliefs, Gibson offered not to play in tournaments where her presence might embarrass the LPGA. However, Lenny Wirtz, the commissioner at that time, came up strong for her.
Gibson played in the Babe Zaharias Open at Beaumont, Texas, in 1964, though the club decreed that Gibson could not enter the clubhouse. When club members attempted to impose the same condition on Gibson in 65, Wirtz withdrew the LPGAs sponsorship and no tournament was held. Ironically, she had been named the Babe Zaharias Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958 for her tennis stardom.
Some clubs called their tournaments invitationals instead of opens to justify refusing Gibson and fellow black Renee Powell the opportunity to play.
Though incidents like this repeatedly occurred, Gibson quickly put them out of her mind. She did an interview with British golf writer Liz Kahn for Kahns book, The LPGA: The Unauthorized Version, in which she dismissed the incidents out of hand.
Ive had problems, she said, but Ive forgotten the details. Ive forgotten a lot of the things that Ive gone through over the years. After theyve happened, theyre over. I dont need to hem and haw about them.
Theres a lot that I dont remember. I dont know whether Im lazy or I dont want to remember.
Of course, it was because she didnt want to remember. The palookas who refused to accept her as a fellow human were exhibiting their own infantile subhuman attitudes. Gibson chose to accept and deal with the gross injustices in her own way, becoming a giant in stoicism and in turning the other cheek.
When I was on tour in the 1960s, she told Kahn, I enjoyed it because I liked traveling from city to city. Ive always been a loner, but gradually I got a little friendly with some of the girls. Marlene Hagge and I liked each other. Shes a nice person who appreciated my talent as the first black woman on tour.
It was interesting how Hagge and Gibson first became friends. Hagge arrived in Columbus, Ohio, about midnight one year, just in time to witness Gibson being refused a hotel room because ' surprise! ' she was black.
Horrified, Hagge quickly marched up to Gibson and said, Come on in with me. Hagge demanded Gibson room with her. And over the years, the two became frequent road roommates.
She probably doesnt want to remember the prejudice, Hagge told Kahn. There have been some black militants in sport, but Althea was smart and never militant. We had trouble, especially in the South, and we said we wouldnt play unless Althea could be treated like everyone else.
Still, Gibson felt the hatred, boiling over underneath the surface. She was allowed to play many places, but always, she was made aware that she was different.
I was her friend, said Hagge. She was a very nice person. I felt good about being able to help someone, and we were equal friends. If she was your friend and knew you were on her side, she would do anything for you.
Martina Navratilova, herself an outstanding woman athlete 20 years later, paid homage to Gibson Sunday. She was a great champion and great person. We had a good relationship - she was always there for me even when I was a nobody,' Martina Navratilova told the Associated Press.
'Her life was very difficult, but she broke down a lot of barriers and doors and made it easier for a lot of us.'
I tried to set an example for future young Negro women, Gibson once said. I set an example of courtesy, obeying the rules and not going against officialdom. Thats the way I lived, the way I wanted to live for those others coming one day in the future. I like to say, Althea Gibson set a good example for others to follow.
She died with her dignity fully intact. She stood straight and tall, even when others were stooping to the ground with their racial prejudices and practices. The world, be it noted, has lost a great human being.
Email your thoughts to George White
Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.
It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.
Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.
Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.
“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”
The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.
“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”
Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.
Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder
LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.
Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.
''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''
It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.
''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''
Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.
''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''
After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.
''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''
He's making his first start in the event.
''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.
Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.
''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''
Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.
''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.
The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.
''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''
Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.
''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.
Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.
Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.
Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.
John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.
Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years
Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.
He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.
How rare is his missing the cut there?
The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.
The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.
The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.
Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.
Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.