Peete, Calvin 1943—

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Calvin Peete 1943

Professional golfer

At a Glance

Major Asset in Controled Swing

Peaked After Age 40

National Minority Golf Foundation


Despite his deformed left arm and his not playing golf until he was in his mid-20s, Calvin Peete rose to a prominent position in professional golf ranks in the 1980s. He established a reputation for being able to hit the ball straighter than any other player on the PGA Tour, and he has been admired by peers and fans alike for his consistent, error-free play. Peetes golfing ability is entirely self-made; he has never received a single golf lesson.

Peete is also one of the few black golfers who never caddied before turning professional. Ive always been fascinated about being able to control the golf ball, Peete toldEsquire. Im only going to hit the ball so far. I only have so much physical ability, and what I have to do is learn to play within that ability, and just play my game. Peetes game became extremely consistent during his peak years from 1982 through 1986, when he placed high on the earnings list and won 11 PGA tournaments.

Born in Detroit, Peete moved in with his grandmother in Missouri at age 11 after his parents were divorced. While living there he fell out of a tree and broke his left elbow in three places, giving him a permanently impaired left arm that had little mobility. He moved to Florida to rejoin his fathers new family at age 13, becoming the oldest of his fathers second crop of 10 children.

With money scarce, Peete was forced to quit school and help support the family by working in the cornfields with his father. While Dennis Peete picked ears of corn off stalks, son Calvin made crates for the corn for a penny apiece. Peete and his partner put together 6,000 to 7,000 crates a day. This heavy responsibility at an early age established a strong work ethic in Peete that would later serve him well as a golfer. As legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus once said, according to Esquire, Calvin has a tremendous talent for hard work.

When the United States restricted Cuban imports following Fidel Castros takeover of that country in 1960, numerous workers from Caribbean islands came to the United States to help cut sugarcane now being grown there. Peete was intrigued by the influx of men who would sell various products to these workers out of the backs of their station wagons, and figured that he could make good money doing the same. He secured a

At a Glance

Born July 18, 1943, in Detroit, Ml; son of Dennis (an automobile plant worker and farmer) and l renia Bridgefond Peete; married Christine Peete, 1974 {divorced, 1988); remarried, 1992; children (first marriage): Charlotte, Calvin, Rickie, Dent) is, Kalvanetta.

Worked as farm laborer, Florida, 1957-60; sold goods to migrant workers, East coast, 1961-71; played first game of golf at age 23, Rochester, NY; managed apartments, Fort Lauderdale, FL, late 1960s; became professional golfer, 1971; qualified for Professional Golfers Association (PGA) tour, 1975; became second black professional golfer to earn over $100,000 in one year, 1978; won first PGA tournament (Greater Milwaukee Open), 1979; won 12 tournaments on PGA tour during career, including the Anheuser-Busch Classic, 1982, Georgia-Pacific Atlantic Classic, 1983, Texas Open, 1984, Phoenix Open and Tournament Players Championship, both 1985, and MONY Tournament of Champions, 1986; finished third in PGA Tour earnings once and fourth twice, 1982-85; formed Calvin Peete Enterprises; founded Calvin Peete National Minority Golf Foundation, 1989; conducted golf clinics for children, early 1990s; joined PGA Seniors tour, 1993.

Awards: Most Improved Player Award, Golf Digest; led PGA in driving accuracy and greens in regulation strokes, 1982 and 1983; member, U.S. RyderCupteam, 1983; honorary degree, Wayne State University, 1983; Ben Hogan Award, Golf Writers Association, 1983; Jackie Robinson Award, 1983; two-time winner of Vard-on Trophy (for lowest scoring average per round); named to Golf magazines Ail-American team; Black Achievement Award, Ebony.

Addresses: HomeNorth Fort Myers, Florida. Office Calvin Peete Enterprises, 2050 Collier Avenue, Fort Myers, FL 33901.

peddlers license while still in his teens, then started buying products such as clothing and jewelry wholesale in Miami, and selling them to field hands at a profit.

For most of the 1960s, Peete followed the harvest as it traveled north, driving and selling as far away as upstate New York. While staying in Rochester, New York, in 1965, he was enticed into playing golf by friends who told him they were taking him to a clambake. He had always considered golf to be a silly game, as he told Esquire, but his interest was sparked after he managed to par a hole during his first outing. That same day he found a driving range and drove hundreds of balls to try to improve his swing. I knew at that time that it had to be some power shapin my way, because I had the bug, he said in Esquire.He also became attracted by the financial lure of professional golf. Just about that same time I saw a tournament on television and learned Jack Nicklaus was making around $200,000 a year chasing that ball, he was quoted as saying in Ebony.I figured I could be happy making about one-third of that amount--so I decided to give it a try.

Major Asset in Controled Swing

Since his deformed left arm and smaller-than-average size-510, 165 pounds-prevented him from generating a lot of club speed, Peete compensated by perfecting his control. Typically he practiced alone, going to courses early or late in the day when other players were not there. He played as much as he could, and even took a new job as an apartment manager in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, so that he would have more time for golf. Right from the beginning, Peete felt that all it took to master the game was hard work. I dont feel that there was any talent there, he told Esquire.I feel that its something any person could do.

Golf became Peetes obsession, compelling him to find ranges with floodlights so that he could practice after dark. Sometimes he got up in the middle of the night to go out and practice because he had suddenly thought of a problem with his stroke that needed work. Within six months after playing his first round, Peete broke 80 and set his sights on turning professional. While it would seem that his left arms deformity, which prevented Peete from straightening it out, was a hindrance, some of Peetes fellow golfers maintained that it actually helped him hit a straighter shot because the arm could only be moved in certain ways.

After he became a pro golfer in 1971, it took Peete four more years to be accepted in the professional tours qualifying school. He finally made the PGA tour at age 32, an incredibly late start for a professional career. For the first few years on the tour, Peete barely made ends meet. He also found it difficult to fraternize with the other pros, who tended to be much more educated than he was. Peete maintained a low profile on the tour, usually staying in his hotel room at night or socializing with the group of caddies.

Peete finished 94th on the Tour in 1976, earning $22,966, then slipped to 105th the next year. However, in 1978 he managed a fifth-place finish at the New Orleans Open. He also set a course record at the Greater Milwaukee Open, shooting a 19-under-par round. That year Peete earned more than $100,000, becoming only the second black golfer to pass that mark.

In his first tournaments, Peetes perfectionist attitude sometimes got the better of him. He dropped out of tournaments after shooting especially bad rounds, angering tour officials. Helping him to maintain his cool was his wife, Christine, who often joined him on tour. When Peete needed to earn his high school equivalency degree in order to qualify for the U.S. Ryder Cup team in the early 1980s, his wife served as his tutor on the road.

Peaked After Age 40

After finishing 43rd on the PGA earnings list in 1981, Peete really found his stride in 1982, when he won the Greater Milwaukee Open. After Id won my first tournament, thats when I felt relaxed, and I felt that I belonged, he told Esquire.As he entered the 1980s, Peete became known for his steady on-target play. According to Chris Smith inGo//magazine, throughout most of the 1980s, Peete was the most accurate player on Tour, hitting more fairways and greens than anyone. In the 1980s Peete started up Calvin Peete Enterprises and became active in a variety of business interests around the country. Despite his fame, he continued to shun the limelight and often didnt stay in hotels where the other pros did. He would remain his room when not playing, thinking about his next round and watching television, with the phone off the hook.

A chronically weak disk in Peetes back began to take its toll in the late 1980s, sending his career spiraling downward. After he was forced to quit playing after the first round of the PGA Championship in 1986, he took six months off. Although he finished 12th on the PGA earnings list that year, Peetes position plummeted to 140th in 1987 and 87th in 1988. He finished in the money in just seven of 24 tournaments in 1990, two of 11 in 1991, and none of the seven tournaments he entered in 1992. He was later diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder, which forced him to drop out of the 1992 Players Championship.

National Minority Golf Foundation

Peete has always lamented the lack of black players on the PGA tour, and has maintained an active presence in trying to help minority groups get involved in golf. In 1989 he set up the Calvin Peete National Minority Golf Foundation and began holding 12 to 15 golf clinics a year for disadvantaged youths. However, lack of funding forced the Foundation to cease operation in 1992.

Despite the obvious physical problems hampering his game in the early 1990s, Peete felt at the time that his game had been hurt most by his mental framework. He began receiving guidance from John Newman, a minister in Jacksonville, Florida, to help gain more mental control over his body. Convinced that his game was getting back on track, Peete joined the Senior PGA Tour in 1993.

Although his high ranking on the PGA Tour was relatively short, Peete made the most of a career that started a decade later than those of most other pros. Peete had earned a significant $2,204,421 through 1992, and few professionals have matched his work ethic or the consistency he achieved during his peak years. As he told Golf magazine, Ive had a great life. Ive had a successful career and Ive been able to give of myself to the kids through my foundation.



Ashe, Arthur, A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete Since 1946, Volume 3, Amistad, 1988, pp. 138-141.


Black Enterprise, July 1983, pp. 13, 70; September 1994, pp. 68-81.

Ebony, January 1983, p. 44.

Esquire, February 1987, pp. 108-115.

Golf, July 1983, p. 58.

Jet, April 25, 1988, p. 49; August 21, 1989, p. 56; February 18, 1991, p. 48; September 14, 1992, p. 48.

New York Times, May 14, 1990, pp. Cl. C5.

Sports Illustrated, February 18, 1991, p. 9.

Ed Decker