Herbert Dixon has a house full of crystal trophies from his days competing on the United Golf Association Tour for black golfers in the 1940s and 1950s. But Dixon's victory at a professional tournament in Jacksonville in 1951 remains ever vivid in the memory of the Bartow native.
|Herbert Dixon has a house full of crystal trophies from his days competing on the United Golf Association Tour for black golfers in the 1940s and 1950s.
But Dixon's victory at a professional tournament in Jacksonville in 1951 remains ever vivid in the memory of the Bartow native.
The 92-year-old Dixon beat Charlie Sifford, perhaps the best golfer on the tour.
Sifford, elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame at St. Augustine in 2004 and still the only black golfer inducted, went on to win the National Negro Open five years in a row from 1952-56.
But in Jacksonville, Sifford showed a lack of respect for Dixon, who had picked fruit just to earn his entry fee.
"When I was coming up, I was poor. I didn't have fancy clothes like they wear,'' Dixon recalled.
"I had on old shabby clothes. I went out there and shot a 69 the first day. The word got out,'' he said.
"Charlie Sifford said, ‘Who is this tramp?' He called me a tramp,'' Dixon said. "I said, ‘OK.'?''
The two were paired together for the final round.
"I shot a 68 the last day and won the tournament. I got a chance to put it back in his face,'' Dixon said. "That was one of the highlights of my golfing career.''
Dixon, who won more than 50 tournaments during his competitive career, was inducted into the African American Golfers Hall of Fame on May 27 at West Palm Beach.
Dixon, who you'd never guess was over 90, is now in two halls of fame.
In 1998, he joined the National Black Golf Hall of Fame, which includes Winter Haven native Charlie Owens and the late Eddie Postell of Lakeland and Richard Lewis of Bartow.
Dixon was inducted as a Legacy Awardee, a unanimous choice at the African American Golfers Hall of Fame, which includes Calvin Peete, Jim Thorpe, Jim Dent and Bill Dickey, but not Sifford.
"We don't have many of them still 92 who loves the game of golf, loves playing the game of golf, and loves to see children playing golf,'' said Malachi Knowles, founder of the African American Golfers Hall of Fame.
"What a fine gentleman. What a fine out and out person,'' Knowles said.
"He's playing golf and definitely enjoying it. There's no senility, none of that," Knowles said. "I believe he'll be playing golf after he's 100 years old."
Dixon, once the valedictorian at Union Academy, was one of the Polk County Pioneers honored June 21 at the Polk County Historical Association's 38th annual Pioneer Luncheon in Bartow.
After picking fruit while he was growing up, Dixon went on to become a long-distance semi-truck driver at Imperial Lumber Co. for 30 years, then worked in security for the School Board until last year.
Now, Dixon spends two or three days a week at Bartow Golf Course, where he's a member.
"I shot 73 at Bartow last Saturday. I bogeyed the last hole,'' said Dixon, an 8-handicap who takes part in the club's Two-A-Side games every week.
Chris Banks, the club pro at Bartow, said Dixon shoots in the 70s more often than not.
"The guy really is amazing. He still gets it done," Banks said.
Dixon said his best round this year is a 5-under-par 67 at Bartow, and his lowest career score is 63, also at Bartow.
"He's a golfer. He looks the part," Knowles said. "He's all-around perfect."
Dixon learned the game by watching players he caddied for.
"I used to go out and caddie for different people. Back in those days, you weren't allowed to play on the golf course. You weren't allowed to do anything but caddie," Dixon said. "And eventually, they gave us a Monday. They called it Caddie Day, that you could go out and play a round of golf."
Dixon started playing when he was 12 or 13 years old, hitting balls in the rough, well out of sight of the Bartow pro shop.
"I would sneak out to the caddie shack. I had one golf club,'' Dixon said. "It was a 6- or 7-iron. I could hit it 40-50 yards.''
Dixon, who will be 93 on Sept. 16, is in good health. A widower, he lives alone although he has 10 children.
His secret to living so long?
"I try to do the right thing. I don't smoke. I don't drink,'' he said.
From meager beginnings with a self-built swing, Dixon developed into a worthy opponent for Sifford, Owens, Lee Elder, Teddy Rhodes and Jim Dent. Rhodes was the first black golfer to compete on the PGA Tour at the 1950 Phoenix Open, and Elder broke the race barrier at the 1975 Masters.
But nothing ever eclipsed getting the best of Sifford in Jacksonville more than 60 years ago.
"That's the only guy I really enjoyed beating,'' Dixon said. "That was the height of my career.''
A career that has lasted almost 80 years, and still counting.