Updated: 5:07 p.m. ET
Calvin Peete, the most decorated African-American golfer in PGA Tour history before Tiger Woods’ career began, died Wednesday morning. He was 71.
Peete won 12 times on the PGA Tour between 1979-86, highlighted by a victory at the 1985 Players Championship. He captured a career-best four victories in 1982.
One of the most accurate ball-strikers of his era, Peete led the PGA Tour in driving accuracy for 10 consecutive years from 1981-90. He won the Vardon Trophy in 1984, awarded annually to the Tour’s overall scoring leader, and compiled a 4-2-1 individual record in two Ryder Cup appearances, 1983 and 1985.
Born in Detroit in 1943 as the eighth of nine children, Peete did not begin playing golf until his early 20s. Despite a childhood injury that left him unable to fully extend his left arm, Peete earned his card at Q-School in 1975 and won his first event at the 1979 Greater Milwaukee Open. He was inducted in 2012 to the African American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame.
“Calvin was an inspiration to so many people. He started in the game relatively late in life but quickly became one of the Tour's best players, winning and winning often despite the hardship of his injured arm,” said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. “Throughout his life, he gave so much, and we especially noticed it when he moved to Ponte Vedra Beach as he continued to support the community, the PGA Tour and our various charitable pursuits. Along with his wife, Pepper, he made such a difference working with The First Tee and junior golf in this area. Calvin will always be remembered as a great champion and an individual who consistently gave back to the game. We will dearly miss him.”
Peete is survived by his wife and his children, Calvin, Dennis, Rickie, Nicole, Kalvanetta, Aisha and Aleya.
“Everyone in the family admired and loved him,” said his wife. “He took the Peete name to another level. We are so thankful that he was in our lives as a father, husband and role model. He was a blessing, and he will be missed.”
Jack Nicklaus paid tribute to Peete in a statement released on his website:
“I thought Calvin Peete was a remarkable golfer. He overcame a lot of adversity, including a physical limitation, to become a very, very good golfer. He played on my Ryder Cup team in 1983 and he was an excellent team member and player. Calvin helped us to get off to a good start that year with a win in a match that included Seve [Ballesteros], and then in Singles, where every point was so critical, he picked up a big victory.
“Over the years, we played a lot of golf together, and I was amazed at what he could get out of his game. He was an extremely straight driver of the golf ball; a very smart golfer; and, you might say, he was very much an overachiever.
“Off the golf course, Calvin was a tremendously warm and caring man. I always liked Calvin, and enjoyed a great relationship with him. We always had fun together. Calvin gave so much of himself to the game and to others, and there are countless young men and women whose lives he touched through The First Tee and other organizations, who owe Calvin a debut of gratitude.
“He will be missed by so many, including Barbara and me. We send our heartfelt condolences to the Peete family and his many friends.”