It's force of habit: Rose Elder stalks down the side of a fairway at a pace just this side of a sprint. "We used to always walk fast," she said, "so we could get to Lee's ball -- people used to pick it up and throw it."
People don't pick up Lee Elder's ball and throw it anymore, but Rose Elder stills cover a 300-yard fairway in something close to record time. Friday morning at Congressional, though, she wasn't going fast enough on the 18th. Like a jolt from a nightmare she thought she's forgotten, the conversation reached her ears.
"Four guys," she said on the back nine a few minutes later. "The same typical remarks you hear year after year after year. I heard a guy say, 'I hope his ball lands in the rough.' I mean, I have to feel sorry for him. Something like that, you have to be sick in the first place. Now, I'm sure there are thousands of people here at Congressional who hope Lee does well, but you'd think, in this day and age . . . "
A man in front of her in the gallery, overhearing the story, turns and smiles. "I hope he does well."
"Thanks," said Rose Elder, smiling back. "But that's happened so much over the years . . . There've been so many times . . . "
Like the Danny Thomas Open in Memphis in the early 1970s. Lee was leading when someone threatened to shoot him. The next day, Rose Elder did not stalk the fairways alone. She was accompanied by armed guards.
It's been awhile since the Professional Golfers Association of America (not the PGA tour) lifted the "Caucasian clause," allowing blacks to join the tour in the early 1960s. But you can still count the black tour members on the fingers of both hands. The high-profile black golfers? Elder, who shot 71 yesterday and made the cut at 144. Calvin Peete, Jim Dent, maybe.
Better shop at Elder, the first black to play the flora of Augusta and long the major role model for young black golfers. His followers at Congressional are legion; it would take a good deal more than two hands to count the blacks in Elder's gallery this weekend.
But along the fairways on Friday, there was a conspicuous lack of young black men, of Elder's possible successors. Who'll be the next in line? There have been more black managers in baseball (three) in the last three years than black tournament winners.
"Lee has opened the doors, but blacks have gotten a slow start, because it's a very expensive game," said spectator Al Morgan, 26, winner of $23,000 on satellite tours in the last year and a finalist in PGA regional qualifying school this year. "It all depends on who you've got behind you. With blacks, there aren't that many people willing to take the investment, the risk, unless you're exceptional. It's improving, but it's slow progress."
"A lot of the young golfers come out of college," said Ray Coleman, also in Elder's gallery, "and we have a lot of good young caddies at Langston who won't get the chance to go to college. And the young kids don't have any developmental program in high school."
And sometime, when they do . . . "Just recently, some of the best young kids in Louisiana couldn't play on a high school team because they weren't allowed on the country club course," said Rose Elder as her husband scrambled for another par. "And that's not just in Louisiana . . . Golf is still very much closed, and as far as the system doing anything to open it up, they're not . . .
"How can a young black player get a sponsorship if he can't get exposure? Half of the young (white) players on the tour have been exposed to the tour long before they joined it, in college. They played in Augusta, the Open, as amateurs. You have a lot of young black players who they know are good but are not invited. All you have to do is be a young white boy and have the desire to play -- that's the facts of life . . .
"Across the board, people could do a lot to help it . . . But in this game, if they don't want you in there, they won't do anything to enhance the situation."
And the culture shock a black golfer experiences every time he looks up from Congressional's 18th fairway to see that enormous white architectural gumbo of a clubhouse?
"You have to feel uncomfortable, because you're in a different environment," said Morgan. "It just takes a little maturity."
"You feel uncomfortable if you make yourself uncomfortable," said Rose Elder. "You've got to mature enough, that's all."