Pete Brown, first black player to win PGA Tour event, dies at 80

By John Boyette
Published on
Pete Brown, the first black golfer to win a PGA Tour event, died Friday morning at Doctors Hospital, family friend Ramona Harriet said. He was 80.
Brown, who moved to Evans in 2011, won the Waco Turner Open in Oklahoma in 1964 and the 1970 Andy Williams-San Diego Open.
The golfer had suffered a series of strokes in recent years and also suffered from congestive heart failure.
"Pete had a lot of medical challenges," Harriet said. "He was a strong man, he was a fighter. He beat all the odds, he was strong not just on the golf course, but off it."
Brown and his wife, Margaret, moved to the Augusta area at the urging of Augusta native and fellow golf professional Jim Dent in 2011.
Harriet said the couple recently celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary while Brown was in the intensive care unit.
"The staff brought them punch and cake," she said. "She was beside him like she's always been."
Last year, Harriet organized the Swing Hope Into Action Celebration at Augusta Municipal Golf Course and honored Brown, Dent and Charlie Sifford. Sifford, who died in February, was the first black golfer to play on the PGA Tour, joining in 1961, and he also won two PGA Tour events in his career.
Brown was a native of Mississippi and took to golf first as a caddie, but it wasn't long before "we got to where we could beat the guys we caddied for," he told The Augusta Chronicle in a 2012 interview.
Brown became a PGA Tour member in 1963, two years after Sifford broke that barrier when the Caucasian-only clause was lifted. He admitted he had it easier following Sifford's path.
"Charlie had a rough time," Brown said in 2012. "They harassed him a lot. I got about half of it because I came along right after him. So we were together most of the time. So whatever he got, I got, but it got better later. When he was alone by himself, I don't know how he made it through that."
Brown's big win came in 1964 at the Waco Turner Open, where he rallied to beat Dan Sikes with an up-and-down par on the last hole.
"Hit one of the best shots I ever did in my life off them rocks," he said.
Six years later, Brown beat Tony Jacklin in a playoff at Torrey Pines in a field full of stars.
"Everybody was there like Jack Nicklaus," he said. "I was seven strokes behind Jacklin and all the big guns. To win from that spot was unheard of. I really didn't even want to play because I couldn't win and didn't really like Torrey Pines anyway. Paired with (Tom) Weiskopf the last round. He's a fast player and I was a fast player. I loved to play fast."
Brown's victories didn't earn him a spot in the Masters Tournament. Winners of tour events then didn't get automatic exemptions.
But Brown – unlike Sifford, who also won twice and never played in the Masters – wasn't bitter.
"Before I won (in 1964), they were taking tournament winners," Brown said in 2012. "And when I won they changed the rules. They had a kind of points system, like they do now with the FedExCup. I always played good before Florida but never played good in Florida or I would have made it.
"At the time, if you played good the former champions could invite a player they thought played good enough to be invited to the Masters. The thing about it is the Masters sent out a list of players they wanted them to vote on. That was another stumbling block because if your name wasn't on that list you didn't play anyway. It was fine."
Brown's death marks the third loss of a prominent black golfer this year. Sifford passed away in February, and Calvin Peete died earlier this week.
"We've lost a lot in the African-American golf community," Harriet said.
This year's Swing Hope Into Action event on June 27 will celebrate the memories of Brown, Sifford and Peete, Harriet said.
This article was written by John Boyette from The Augusta Chronicle, Ga. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.