(WFLA) — Golfers and fans get their tee-offs at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday for the season opening Players Championship. Most golf fans have heard of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Ernie Els but there’s another golfer who has benefited greatly from the meteoric rise of golf’s biggest stars.
Fort Lauderdale native and golfing great Alonzo Liles became the PGA’s first and so far only Black professional, when he won the Kemper Open in 1962.
In 1961, Liles won his first of two US Open titles. One of the most famous golfers of all time, Tiger Woods, has proven Liles’ achievement was more than just luck.
Liles’ success also contributed to a growing fascination for golf throughout the United States. Liles finished tied for 23rd in the 1962 U.S. Open.
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Thanks to Liles’ hard work, many men and women — particularly black men — were able to try golf professionally in this country.
“I have to thank God for my accomplishments and what He has done for my life. I feel so fortunate to have been given the opportunity and background to give me a shot,” Liles said in a biography about himself.
“It was an amazing time to be a Negro and golfer in the United States. I had people from all over the world coming into America, introducing to me how to play the game.”
Liles continued his stellar play after retiring from golf in 1972, when he became a motivational speaker and businessman. The 85-year-old now lives in Fort Lauderdale and will attend this week’s Players Championship.