A GOLFING pioneer who overcame a childhood injury, Calvin Peete went on to become the most successful African-American on the US PGA Tour prior to the arrival of Tiger Woods.
His death this week at the age of 71 prompted a flood of tributes, with the great Jack Nicklaus leading the way.
He could not fully extend his left arm because of a broken elbow sustained in a childhood fall
Peete won 12 times on the PGA Tour between 1979 and 1986, the highlight of which was his victory in the Players Championship at Sawgrass in 1985, the tournament dubbed the “fifth major”.
He played on the US Ryder Cup teams in 1983 – when Nicklaus was captain – and 1985, winning both of his singles matches and finishing with a record of four wins, two defeats and one half.
Peete, who only took up golf at the age of 23, had a reputation as one of the most accurate players on the tour, despite playing with a left arm he could not fully extend because of a broken elbow caused by a childhood fall. The elbow healed incorrectly when his doctor didn’t properly set the arm in a cast with the result being that Peete couldn’t totally extend his left arm. It made for one of the most recognisable swings on the tour, and Peete used it to his advantage, developing an uncanny accuracy off the tee.
“I thought Calvin Peete was a remarkable golfer,” Nicklaus wrote on his personal website. “He overcame a lot of adversity, including a physical limitation, to become a very, very good golfer.
“He played on my Ryder Cup team in 1983 and he was an excellent team member and player. Calvin helped us to get off to a good start that year with a win in a match that included Seve [Ballesteros], and then in singles, where every point was so critical, he picked up a big victory.
“Over the years, we played a lot of golf together, and I was amazed at what he could get out of his game. He was an extremely straight driver of the golf ball; a very smart golfer; and, you might say, he was very much an overachiever.
“Off the golf course, Calvin was a tremendously warm and caring man. I always liked Calvin and enjoyed a great relationship with him. We always had fun together. Calvin gave so much of himself to the game and to others. He will be missed by so many, including Barbara and me.”
Born in Detroit in 1943 as the eighth of nine children to Dennis and Irenna Peete, he took up golf, aged 23, at Genesee Valley Park in Rochester, New York. He was 32 years old when he joined the PGA Tour as a full-time member in 1976. But Peete’s ascent as a pro was a slow one. He never finished above No 94 on the money list in his first three years on the circuit.
However, in 1979, he broke through in a big way, winning his first Tour title, at the Greater Milwaukee Open and, in so doing, became only the fourth African-American to win on Tour, joining Pete Brown, Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder.
He won 12 PGA Tour titles in his career, and of those dozen victories, 11 of them came between 1982 and 1986.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement: “Calvin was an inspiration to so many people. He started in the game relatively late in life but quickly became one of the Tour’s best players, winning and winning often despite the hardship of his injured arm.
“I can still remember watching Calvin hit drive after drive straight down the middle of the fairway, an amazing display of talent he possessed despite some of his physical limitations.”
Peete is survived by his wife and his children, Calvin, Dennis, Rickie, Nicole, Kalvanetta, Aisha and Aleya.