Student Recalls Life Lessons from Grandfather Charlie Sifford

August 05, 2015

By Brandon Lucas

ALLIANCE, OH – Christian Sifford, a junior criminal justice major of Brecksville, Ohio, recently discussed his late grandfather, Charlie Sifford, the man who broke the color barrier within the PGA.

In 1961, Charlie Sifford became the first African-American to play professional golf. With his signature cigar in hand, Charlie had to face tough times and it was only him on the green with no team to support him. It was his thick skin and strong will that helped him overcome his challenges. By the end of it all, Charlie had 22 professional wins under his belt and paved the way for many others to enter the world of professional golf. Many professionals now call him the “Jackie Robinson of Golf” and according to the Associated Press, in an email sent by Tiger Woods he said if it were not for Charlie, he may have never been able to take up the game of golf.

Sifford is Christian’s grandfather on his dad’s side. During Sifford’s lifetime, Christian was very close with his grandfather and saw him as a role model in his life. They lived close to one another within the city of Cleveland and spent a great deal of time together.

“I was there almost every other day,” Christian said. “He played a big part of who I am today. A lot of the ideals that I believe in and how I think and how I act are definitely influenced by him. He harped on the principles of toughness and hard work and that is what I took away the most. He taught me to be the man I am today.”

While Christian was over, Sifford would begin critiquing little things here and there on his swing and handling with the golf club. This came easy to Sifford since the whole family shares similar swinging styles. Unfortunately, Sifford was never able to teach his grandson how to play with a cigar in one hand and the golf club in the other. Though Christian was never able to see his grandfather play in his prime, they were able to go out to local driving ranges where they would hit golf balls for a few hours and share some laughs. And thanks to the internet, Christian is able to watch historical videos of his grandpa playing and see what he had to go through.

“It is amazing to see him do something no one else was able to do during that era – how he influenced and impacted not only the golf world, but sports and people too,” Christian said.

Since Christian’s childhood, Sifford served as a major influence on his grandson’s athletics career. Christian has played football his whole life and even played for a short time at Mount Union. It was during these times where he learned important lessons both on the field and from his family.

“I'm a very competitive person and I believe I inherited that from my grandpa, but he always emphasized pushing the limits and doing everything with max effort,” Christian said. “With football, my dad would always relate football situations with life lessons that would help me become a better man down the road. I believe what both of them have taught me will help me in a huge way throughout my life.”

Due to his older age, traveling was hard for Sifford so he was never able to visit Mount Union with his grandson. Fortunately, Christian constantly kept him updated with what was going on and showed him pictures of the campus, which made Sifford feel like he was actually there.

Last November, Sifford received the highest award a civilian can receive, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Sifford traveled to Washington, DC where he met President Barack Obama and was presented with his award. Though Christian was not able to attend, he knew his grandfather deserved this award more than anything.

“My grandpa was ecstatic to win this award. He was pretty pumped about seeing the president and DC, too,” said Christian. “For him, being recognized by the President of the United States for what he did was an incredible feeling.”

This past February, the Sifford family suffered a loss with the passing of Charlie. Charlie was 92 years old and he had lived a happy and amazing life. 

“For being an older guy, he was still sharp as ever and always cracking jokes. He was always an upbeat, happy person,” Christian said.

One day, Christian would like to work as an enforcement officer for either the police or FBI. From what he has learned from his grandfather, he knows that with passion, love and hard work, he will be able to achieve his dreams.

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