Local golf legend to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

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BRECKSVILLE, Ohio-  A Cleveland sports legend will soon be making a historic visit to the White House.

President Obama will award Brecksville resident Charles Sifford the nation's highest civilian honor: the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for changing the game of golf.

At 92 years young, Sifford is a living legend.

He started his life on the links as a teenager, teaching himself how to play the game of golf while working as a caddy.

Sifford said, "I liked it because it is a skillful game. You take that club and put in in your hand and hit the ball where you want it to go. Work 18 holes and get 60-cents, give mom that 50 and I’d take the dime and buy me a cigar or something."

After mastering his craft in the late 50s, Sifford, known for smoking his signature cigars, was not allowed to showcase his talents on a national level.

While he was formally excluded from the PGA for much of his career because of the color of his skin, he won six National Negro opens.

But for him, that still wasn't enough.

In 1960, he won his challenge over the PGA’s "Caucasian Only" membership policy, and started to gain the respect he deserved, playing with other golfing legends, breaking through the PGA’s color barrier.

"….I had some great white friends: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer; they recognized me. I was a pretty good player, you know."

Sifford also cites Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, as being an inspiration and a friend.

The trailblazer went on to win PGA titles in 1967 and 1969 and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004.

Sifford's son, Charlie Junior, said he's always known his father was something special, now gaining the attention of President Obama.

"We thought that once we got the award for the Hall of fame, that was, that would be the top award the he would ever receive," said Sifford, Junior.

Sifford's home is decorated with the many awards from other tournaments and accolades he's received throughout the years.

He's even inspiring local amateur golfers, many saying this honor is long overdue.

Darnell Cheatham said, "He should’ve been given something of this caliber a long time ago. They endured, just to play the game that they love to play.  They didn't want anything more than just to be able to play."

Sifford will head to Washington, D.C. on Monday, November 24 to receive his medal.