Lanny Wadkins: Legendary golfer dies aged 87

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The late Lanny Wadkins was a pioneering figure in the sport of golf.

He was the first Black professional in the United States and the only one to win the Green Jacket on the PGA Tour.

He also helped place golf at the heart of American culture with ‘Wadkins-bashing’ a frequent sport during his time on tour.

But his achievements were not without critics. Wadkins was regarded as a disciple of the abusive Jack Nicklaus.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Wadkins changed his name from Lester Deshon in 1949

“He was a personal demon that I could never deal with,” Nicklaus said of Wadkins.

He brought about his own demise in the 1970s when he began referring to himself as a character called ‘Flawless’.

“But that was nothing compared to what he did to my game, what he did to Nicklaus’ game,” Nicklaus said of Wadkins in 1992.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Wadkins holds the record for top-10 finishes in a major in a season

Wadkins, who died on October 12, was born the fifth of nine children in San Antonio, Texas, in 1925. His father was a goldsmith while his mother was a member of a local women’s club who taught golf at public courses.

He played nine holes on the course and became obsessed with golf.

By the time he was 16, he had discovered that he was African American and started attending segregated schools in North Texas.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Wadkins won the 1963 US Open

“Of course, nobody wanted me there,” Wadkins said in 1995. “I went to school with the Mormons.”

He took up golf full-time in 1937 at age 25 and immediately qualified for the US Army Golf Tour – then a US Postal Service sponsored tour.

He then went on to win the US Mid-Amateur Championship in 1941 and 1948, while winning the US Open in 1963.

Wadkins made his debut at the Masters in 1947 and at the PGA Championship in 1951 and won all three major championships.

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