Who Was Ted Rhodes? Daughter Says Black Golf Pioneer Was Similar To Tiger

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Thanks to Tiger Woods, people want to know more about Ted Rhodes, the first black to play in a PGA-sanctioned event. Rhodes' daughter says they would find a man very similar to Woods.

"Tiger, if he stood next to him, their swings would be very similar," Peggy White said last week. "He was known for his swing, and he was focused on playing golf."

Woods thanked Rhodes as one of the black golf pioneers following his Masters victory. But a golfer waiting to tee off Wednesday at the Nashville course named for him had never heard of Rhodes. "Ted Rhodes who?" he said.

Unlike Woods, Rhodes' place in history is small.

He had only a few chances to play against white golfers thanks to the PGA Tour's "Caucasian Only" rule, which wasn't rescinded until 1961, a year after Rhodes retired. He sued the PGA with Bill Spiller and Madison Gunther in 1948 only to see tournaments changed to an invitation-only format.

Rhodes finally broke through in 1951 when the PGA recorded his score (71) in the Phoenix Open.

But Rhodes, who died in 1969 at age 53, spent most of his time on the black tour where he won more than 150 tournaments in the United Golf Association between the late 1940s and his retirement.

"He accepted it," his daughter said by telephone from Chicago. "He was very mild-mannered, a soft-spoken gentlemen. He went and played where he was able to play. He knew if he had the chance, he could stand up out there to anyone.

"He just continued to play golf. He made a living at golf the best way he could."

Charlie Sifford, the first black to regularly play the PGA Tour, called Rhodes the "black Jack Nicklaus." Rhodes' swing earned him the nickname "Straight Arrow." He taught golf to boxing champion Joe Louis and in the 1960s tutored Elder, who in 1975 was the black invited to the Masters.

"He was one of the greatest players during that time before integration," said Joe Hampton, who caddied with Rhodes in the 1930s.

During that time, segregation was in full swing, and blacks were banned from public and private courses. Rhodes picked up tips while caddying and then sharpened his swing in city parks or cow pastures.

"We'd take our lawn mowers with us and cut us out a spot here and cut us out a spot over there, and that was the way we'd play," said Hampton, who spent 43 years as the head pro at the course that was renamed in Rhodes' honor in 1969.

Woods' tip of the cap to Rhodes, Sifford and Elder surprised those gathered in the clubhouse at the Ted Rhodes Municipal Golf Course to watch the final round of the Masters.

"Praise the Lord that he let me see this day," Hampton said. "I'm grateful."

White said Woods mentioned her father at a perfect time. She has started the Ted Rhodes Foundation, which will sponsor a tournament later this year. She also is writing a book about her father to fill in the gap about black golfers.

"Charlie and Lee are still alive. They can speak for themselves. My father cannot," she said.

"I want to make sure people remember the sacrifices, the struggles and everything my father had to endure."