Black History Month: The Story of the Greatest African American Golfer You Probably Don’t Remember

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It’s Black History Month for at least another week so I feel that it’s time for a tribute. African-Americans built this great country and built some of the country’s greatest inventions and on the golf side of things, an African-American man created one of the most important little tools in the sport. The tee. The little object that helps us take that first important swing on each hole. George Franklin Grant invented the tee back in the 1800’s and was also Harvard’s first ever black professor as well as a Boston dentist. Some speculate that George was not the inventor of the tee and that nobody really knows who invented it but he’s widely regarded as the true inventor and created the wooden tee. However, the man I want to talk about is the man who is one of the greatest golfers of all-time and the greatest black golfer in history not named Tiger Woods. This man is Calvin Peete.

Calvin was born in Detroit, Michigan and showed up on the PGA Tour in 1975 and had a very solid career winning 13 tournaments, 12 of them on the PGA Tour and one on the Japan Tour. He also has had an impressive showing in the majors with 23 cuts made, 13 top 25s four top 10s, three top 5s and placed 3rd one time at the 1982 PGA Championship. He was also in the top 10 in the World Golf Rankings for several weeks during his tenure. He is also known as one of the best players in the 80’s as he won an impressive four tournaments in one year in 1982 when he went on a tear and even won two tournaments by a whopping seven strokes and was the same year he nearly won the PGA Championship. His 1982 performance is one of the most dominant performances in a single year by a player in the history of the game and if he won the PGA Championship then that would have really been something.

He is also without a doubt, one of the greatest, if not, the greatest control player in PGA Tour history with an astonishing 10 straight years of leading the PGA Tour in fairways hit. Most Tour pros learn the game at a very young age, but not Calvin. Calvin picked up the game at the age of 23 and never looked back. Before he got into the game, Calvin simply thought it was a sport for retired rich white dudes that liked smacking little white balls around like a lot of us (Including myself) thought before we fell in love with the sport. He had a horrible accident at his grandma’s house when he was 12 years old when he attempted to climb a cherry tree and grabbed a branch that eventually broke causing to fall and break his let elbow and that has to be one of the worst injuries because it feels so awkward and weird when you hit your elbow and that’s why it’s called the “funny bone”.

Although he did get surgery on the elbow, it just wasn’t the same however it very well could have been a huge part to his smooth swing and accuracy. Legendary golf coach Butch Harmon once said of Calvin’s swing, “Calvin had beautiful rhythm and tempo, and because his elbow was fused he was able to create a swing path that allowed him to return the club to the same position at impact.”. Since wasn’t a power hitter much at all and since the injured elbow actually helped him become one of the most accurate hitters in golf history, one has to wonder. If he didn’t injure his elbow, could he have become a power hitter on Tour and not be as accurate? It’s very possible that he could have been one of the best power hitters on Tour but I don’t think it would be on the caliber of his accuracy because he was out of his mind when it came to nailing fairways. Probably, the most heart breaking part of his story is when his mother dropped him off at her mother’s house and only visited him once before she never returned again.

I mean, imagine never seeing your mom again after she only visited you once? Despite that, Calvin went through with his life with his grandmother until the golf God’s gave him a gift at the magical age of 23 when he learned the game when he played on the public course at Genesee Valley Park in Rochester, New York where he was peddling goods to migrant workers. Calvin’s greatest victory came at the Players Championship in 1985 and interestingly enough, he won the tournament while dealing with Tourette’s syndrome which causes the mind to view things in opposite directions and apparently, Calvin had this syndrome his whole life and started to get to him more later in his golf career.”It was like my right became my left and my ups became my downs,” said Peete. “When I was playing golf, I’d think ‘fade’ and then hook the ball.” So, what did he do to fight off this issue? Reverse psychology of course! The result helped him win what many today consider golf’s fifth major at the Players.

Johnny Miller once noted that “He and Curtis Strange were the best golfers in America in the 80’s”. The one thing that I really love about Calvin is that he tries to get many kids in black communities to get into the sport and I absolutely love that because the one thing that golf definitely needs is diversity and that’s what’s really going to help bring the whole world into this great sport. So, let this be a reminder of a time where there was a black man who dominated a mostly white man sport and drove the ball with pure accuracy down any fairway in the world and although he had challenges to face growing up, he overcame it all to have a wonderful career on the PGA Tour and any black golfer that steps on the course today will walk the fairways and there will be a shadow, and that shadow would be of the legendary Calvin Peete. Calvin and his wife Pepper reside in Jacksonville, Florida where Pepper is the manager of The First Tee of Jacksonville.

Credit for all quotes: The Sand Trap

Have a story you want to share about “Mr. Accuracy”? Did you get a chance to meet him? Maybe you saw or heard an interesting interview on TV or on the radio? Leave your thoughts below! Would love to hear them! Also, don’t forget to share this article with family and friends on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites!

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Colin GP Mieczkowski

Colin Mieczkowski is the Editor-in-chief of the award winning GP Golf Report. He hails from Chicago,IL and is a big Chicago sports fan (Except the Cubs, sorry. Chi Sox baby). His writing journey began when he used to write in his notebook and write free verse poems. Later, he created a blog that covered Chicago sports, golf and video games (Weird combination) but decided to just focus on his main passion of golf. That's when the GP Golf Report was born and since its humble beginnings, the blog has reached well over 100,000 unique visitors and continues to grow. He also has built a love for golf course design and is a lover of "Street Golf" which is practically how he picked up the game. Colin is also a video game YouTuber as well. He goes by the name "GhostPanda" on there. You can click the YouTube symbol to check him out. Follow him on Twitter @ChiGolfRadio and add him as a friend on Facebook!
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