Detroit native Calvin Peete, the most successful black player on the PGA Tour before the arrival of Tiger Woods, died April 29. He was 71.
Peete won 12 times on the PGA Tour and was the most accurate driver of his generation. He led the tour in driving accuracy every year from 1981 to 1990. Peete’s biggest year was in 1982 when he won four times. He won the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average in 1984 by edging Jack Nicklaus.
He won The Players Championship in 1985 and played on two Ryder Cup teams. Peete was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
“I’m very happy to be from Detroit,” he said then. “It’s home. I still have ties there.”
“I was poor, which I realized after the fact, but as a kid growing up in Detroit, I really didn’t want for much, ” he said. “I had clothes, food, shelter. I had friends. A couple of my greatest memories as a child was playing hopscotch, kick the can, hide and go seek, and marbles.”
In Detroit, where Peete lived with 18 brothers and sisters, his childhood hero was boxing legend Joe Louis.
“In fact, the first autograph I got from a celebrity was a picture of Joe Louis when I was 10 years old,” Peete said.
For his career, Peete earned more than $3 million on the PGA and Champions tours.
Peete, who didn’t take up the game until he was 23, said his inspiration was Lee Elder, who in 1975 became the first black man to play in the Masters.
“Lee Elder was the first black man I had seen playing professional golf on the tour, ” Peete said.
Peete did the tour the old-fashioned way, too, playing his way into events from the Monday qualifying tournaments.
“I was fortunate enough to be able qualify in 98 percent of the tournaments that I tried to qualify for, ” Peete said.
He retired from competitive golf in the spring of 2001, two years after he was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, an inherited neurological disorder that causes involuntary movement of muscles.
Peete is survived by his wife and his children, Calvin, Dennis, Rickie, Nicole, Kalvanetta, Aisha and Aleya.
“Everyone in the family admired and loved him,” said his wife. “He took the Peete name to another level. We are so thankful that he was in our lives as a father, husband and role model. He was a blessing, and he will be missed.”