James Baldwin, pioneer in golf, dies aged 94

Junior Alex Johnson, who was a ninth-place finisher at the Scottish Open, will now play in the US Amateur The golfing world has been paying tribute to James Baldwin, the former amateur star and…

James Baldwin, pioneer in golf, dies aged 94

Junior Alex Johnson, who was a ninth-place finisher at the Scottish Open, will now play in the US Amateur

The golfing world has been paying tribute to James Baldwin, the former amateur star and amateur professional from Harlem, who has died aged 94.

Baldwin, who was played by Denzel Washington in the Hollywood biopic Glory, famously skipped the 1925 US Open at Pebble Beach and used instead to go on African-American tour across the country, which allowed his talents to shine.

The 11-year-old team-mate of Johnny Miller before his stellar career with the likes of Charlie Sifford and Al Geiberger in the 1950s, made himself famous in one short year, when he became the first African-American professional who earned a full status on the PGA Tour.

That feat was down to the fact that in 1925 only 48 African-Americans were sanctioned by the US PGA Tour and Baldwin played by himself during a 15-month period, winning the same title three times. At the age of 13, he won his first national amateur title, putting him in the spotlight.

After a few less than glorious times, he enjoyed a resurgence in 1972, when he reached a tournament in Florida where Tiger Woods was learning his trade. As he neared the course, he yelled: “Hey Tiger!” He had to run 10 yards to get his mate’s attention and when Woods saw him again, the 39-year-old head pro, who was seen as the future of golf, winked at him.

Cue an onslaught of publicity, as Tiger moved past Baldwin in terms of popularity and endorsement and the 23-year-old star moved to No3 in the world.

George Klives Jr, the No1 trainer on the US Tour in the 1940s, had some regular chats with Bryant Gumbel, who now presents 60 Minutes, when the latter was an aspiring golfer.

“He was shooting 65 at one point but became frustrated because he couldn’t get to the greens,” said Klives Jr. “He spoke of this game in a poetic manner. He said ‘if you get to the green, you’re in a good position.'”

Alex Johnson, whose play on the PGA Tour earned him a spot in the Scottish Open, will now become the first African-American professional to play in the US Amateur.

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