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The Masters, the Military, and the Racial Curve in America in the 60s

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In Richmond, the old capital of the Confederacy, there’s a famous street called Monument Avenue, where stands Virginia’s great generals from that war. They’ve been much in the news the past several months for many people would like to see them removed.

But among those statues is one dedicated to Arthur Ashe, a Richmond native, who was the son of the resident handyman of a segregated park for black children, which contained, among other things, four tennis courts. Showing aptitude for a sport he would otherwise never have an opportunity to try, Ashe played his way into an athletic scholarship at UCLA, then to remain an amateur for four years as a lieutenant in the Army, where, while posted at West Point, he was able to compete, but as an amateur only, during which time he earned berths on the US Davis Cup Team, the US winning the championships twice, plus also winning solo the  US Amateur Championship.

He left the military in 1969, and turned pro, going onto to winning three Grand Slam championships, as well as several other pro-tennis championships and a place in the Hall of Fame.

Then there’s the tale of the late Earl Woods, Tiger’s dad, who died in 2006, while Tiger was at the height of his career. Tiger’s climb to fame can be said to be an all-Army affair, as, despite his talent, no one knows how he might have turned out had his father, Earl, not picked up the game while in uniform.

A career Army officer, with two tours in Vietnam, Special Forces, Earl didn’t pick up a stick until aged 42, at a golf club associated with Fort Hamilton, New York. He loved the game, became proficient at it, handicap in the single digits, so after he retired (as an LTC) and Tiger was born, in 1975, he became Tiger’s sole teacher for those early years.

The rest, of course, is history, as this week, Tiger made his first appearance back at the Masters in Augusta after a long absence.

And the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey liked to say, is that none of this history would have occurred had Earl Woods chosen to pursue any profession other than the profession of arms with the US military. For you see, for you veterans born after Tiger Woods, only the most affluent black man could have afforded to learn to play golf and then find a club who would accept him as a member. The first black man I ever saw  play golf was at an Army golf course in Japan in 1972. And he shot in the low 80s.

Thankfully, those days are over, and Tiger Woods spent millions of his own money trying to speed that process, with clinics all over America.

But it all started because the US military was always ahead of the racial curve in America.

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About the Author:

Vietnam era Army JAG, Asia, 17-yr Cold Warrior in Soviet-China Bloc green zone, Been shot at and hit, but in crime, not war; twice-broken nose for lying (same fellow) hence good law school candidate; Could have been Somebody in Corporate world and politics, but at every crossroad chose to be a man with a tawdry past instead. Gave up law and am now a redeemed American.
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