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Calvin Peete, black golfer and trail blazer for Tiger Woods, dies at 71

Calvin Peete tips his cap as the gallery

Calvin Peete tips his cap as the gallery gives him a standing ovation after he made a birdie on the 18th hole to win the Pacific-Atlanta Classic golf tournament in Atlanta on May 22, 1983. Credit: AP / Joe Holloway Jr.

Calvin Peete, who rose from an impoverished background to become one of the PGA Tour's best players in the 1980s, died in Atlanta, the Tour announced Wednesday. He was 71 and a cause of death was not provided.

Peete was the winner of 12 PGA Tour events, including the 1985 Players Championship, and won the Vardon Trophy for low scoring average during the 1984 season, beating out Jack Nicklaus. He was the most successful black player in history until the arrival of Tiger Woods.

As one of nine children, he overcame monumental odds to become one of the game's best, and he didn't take up the game until he was 23. From a downtrodden area of Detroit, Peete eventually worked in the farm fields of Florida harvesting crops before selling clothing and trinkets to farmworkers along the East Coast.

It was in Rochester, New York, that he was introduced to the game.

A small, wiry man, Peete suffered a broken left elbow in a fall from a tree as a child.

The arm was not set properly and its subsequent crookedness seeming to negate any chance of a decent golf swing.

But he made it work, and forged the reputation as one of the most accurate players in the game.

He statistically was the most accurate driver on tour for 10 straight years beginning in 1981.

"I enjoyed playing with Calvin because you never, ever had to look for his golf ball other than the middle of the fairway," two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North said.

North first met Peete on the mini-tours where players aspiring to make the PGA Tour would play for their own money.

"He overcame so much to get to where he was in the game, it was amazing," North said. "Guys would outdrive him by 50, 60 yards, he just didn't care because he was so mentally tough. At the end of the day, you could outdrive him by 500 yards and he would shoot 70 and you would shoot 71. That was pretty amazing."

On his website, Nicklaus posted a tribute to Peete: "Over the years, we played a lot of golf together, and I was amazed at what he could get out of his game. He was an extremely straight driver of the golf ball; a very smart golfer; and, you might say, he was very much an overachiever.

"Off the golf course, Calvin was a tremendously warm and caring man. I always liked Calvin, and enjoyed a great relationship with him."

At the 1982 PGA Championship in Tulsa, Peete told Newsday: "I've always been in a position in life where I had to win. As a kid, life was very hard. There was pressure to live every day. So when I came on tour, maybe that pressure wasn't as great as it was for the other guys."

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