Calvin Peete

One of the most prolific winners in the 80s was Calvin Peete. The first African-American golfer to claim four victories in a year, he racked up an impressive resumé to complement a rich life.

ProFilesCalvin Peete stalked fairways long before Tiger Woods became the face of the PGA Tour. According to a cursory look at PGA Tour history, Peete was one of the best players during the 80s.

Happily married to Pepper, Calvin overcame significant challenges and a late start to play on Tour. His mother dropped him off at her mother’s house and after one visit never returned. He has come a long way since those days. He helps his wife take care of their two girls Aisha and Aleya these days and only plays golf occasionally.

PGA Tour player Calvin PeeteIt wasn’t until age 23 that Calvin Peete picked up a golf club. His previous notion of the game involved retired white guys smacking a little white ball around which, while fairly accurate, wasn’t the whole story. He was yet to help write the new story. “I had none of the nuances of the game. My friends that introduced me to the game, simply said, ‘Hit the ball into the hole in the fewest strokes.’ It was a challenge. I guess it was a God-given gift. Life looked at me and pointed me that way.”

How many of us have said, “If only I’d have started this game when I was young”? Calvin Peete is one who maximized his potential and perhaps not without a little help from a childhood injury. When Peete was 12 years old he was in a cherry tree at his grandmother’s house where he lived and reached for a branch which broke. He fell from the top of the tree to the ground, shattering his left elbow. While he had surgery to repair the injury it was never quite the same.

“Calvin had beautiful rhythm and tempo,” said Butch Harmon. “And because his elbow was fused he was able to create a swing path that allowed him to return the club to the same position at impact.” It was probably his shattered elbow that helped him become one of the straightest hitters on the PGA Tour.

Calvin Peete's follow throughPeete picked up the nickname “Mr. Accuracy” from some of his peers for his ability to hit the ball in the fairway. He holds the Champions Tour record in driving percentage at 80.9 percent. Because his left elbow was fused it took less fuss to get back to the ball with a squared clubface. Timing wasn’t such a problem for him. He was first in driving accuracy from 1981 to 1991. He was the Fred Funk of that era. Not a bad comparison since both are TPC winners.

His accomplishments are impressive. He was only the second African-American to play on the United States Ryder Cup team where he appeared twice: 1983 and 1985. He is one of a handful of blacks to have played regularly on the PGA Tour: Teddy Rhodes, Bill Spiller, Pete Brown, Charlie Sifford, and Lee Elder. Tiger Woods’ story is no secret; he has completely dominated the game and, like those who preceded him, stayed true to his heritage in the process.

From 1979 to 1986 Peete won 11 times on the PGA Tour in addition to his Ryder Cup appearances. He won four times during 1982 and was the first black to do so. His greatest win, however, came at the Tournament Players Championship in 1985 where he plays on occasion still. Johnny Miller noted that, “He shot the most unimpressive 68’s you ever saw. He just dripped guys to death. No question that, for a period of time, he and Curtis Strange were the best player in America.”

At age 62 one of Peete’s desires is to see more kids from the black community pick up the game. There were several African-American players on Tour when Peete was playing and now the only regular is that guy who owns the Tour, Tiger Woods.

An interesting and revealing article from Golf Digest revealed that Peete suffered from Tourette’s syndrome his whole life. The effects of Tourette’s made it increasingly difficult to compete later in his career. The syndrome turned his mind upside down and sideways. “It was like my right became my left and my ups became my downs,” said Peete. “When I was playing golf, I’d think ‘fade’ and then hook the ball.” He was able to overcome it by employing reverse psychology on himself. “I won the Players in that state of mind,” said Peete.

Because Peete was a private person and probably because of a survival mentality he didn’t let people get too close. Lee Trevino noted, “He’s a very private individual.” Yet thats how he coped with the external an internal pressure of tournament golf.

Peete accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time later in life than most golfers. What he did is testimony to his unusual resiliency, competitiveness, and patience. Like other great champions, his life wasn’t perfect, but the process revealed a man who was able to overcome considerable odds.

Photo Credits: © African American Golfer’s Digest, ©

19 thoughts on “Calvin Peete”

  1. I watched a golf lesson from Mr. Peete last night on the golf channel. It was great to watch him and he gave two points that have really helped me. One that other instructors did not let me know was to keep your back to the target on your up swing. This has really helped me use my shoulders in swinging. The other was a simple way to use your pitching and sand wedge. These two points have made the game much easier for me. Thank you Mr. Peete.

  2. Calvin Peete is to me what golf is all about… do it the same way every time.. I don’t know if anyone had a more repeating swing than he did, and being repeatable and predictable is how you win.

    I saw that golf channel show too, and he sure seems to have mellowed into a really nice guy… I think he was pretty tense when he was younger… and I’m sure he had his reasons… but golf is better for having him in it…

    Thanks Calvin!

  3. Can anyone tell me?

    I read an atricle some years ago about Calvin Peete.
    If I remenber corectly, he shot a 66 the final day of the
    tournament to win.

    What I remeber most about the article was his response to a sports media question “Calvin, whe is the las time you shot 66 at Doral?”…
    Calvin’s response was: “at 11:00 o’clock last night in my hotel room”.

    Can you verify that he won.. or what?

    Is the Doral Open (country club, perhaps) known by another name?

    dave g. 🙂

  4. Mr. Peete ;you’re a inspirations to me.I also have a broken arm.My right arm will not straighten out.I broke it when I was about 2 years old; but I’m not going to let it kept me from playing at the Pro Level. I’m getting ready to attend the Sandiego Golf Academy.My goal is to make it on the PGA Tour.I took up the game late also.I practice hitting golf balls during the day and during the night.I’m 38 years old and I know with God’s help, that I will make it soon.My wife and kids say that I’m a golf fanatic. I hit the ball around 290-300 yards, I hit my irons straight and my short game is good.I’m not going to give up on my dream to make it on the PGA Tour and be out there with Tiger. We need to get more Africian American interested in golf.
    I thank God for you.
    God Bless! Keith

  5. This message is for Keith… the fellow who aspires to be a pro golfer with the broke left arm.

    Does the fact that you can’t straighten out your right arm, put additional stress in your shoulder, back or other part of you body, on or off the golf course?

    Please feel free to contact me directly.

    dave g. 😎

  6. I would first like to thank you for representing the African American. Your story influenced me to play the game with pride. I never thought the game of golf was so peaceful and theraputic for my sole, I finally gave the game a chance instead of saying the game was a white mans game so thank you for everything you have done not only for your people but for me personally. God Bless

  7. I first learned about Mr. Pete after reading “Uneven Lies” by Pete McDaniel. It was great to learn about the history of African Americans in golf. It was also great to learn about alot of the legends of the game that look just like me. Mr. Pete is a great inspiration to me because I am starting late as well in competive play. I am 36 years old and I will be trying to quilify for my first tourament this year. The “Long Beach Open”.

    There needs to be alot golf movies written that are based on some of the greatest African American golfers (like Mr. Pete) to ever play the game.

    -Fred Gatlin-

  8. Today I was out at the Players Championship, and Mr. Peete was walking in the crowd at the 18th fairway. I asked him to sign my hat and he did, just as he did for ” everyone ” who recognized him. He also took quite a few pictures with people before moving on. He has always seemed to be, to me, a very warm and kind man, and today, he proved himself as ” just that”. He is a true champion, and a huge credit to the PGA Tour!!!

  9. I was living at Sawgrass back in ’85 and walked the course for four rounds with Peete. The shot he hit at 17 in the final round was brilliant and courageous. It sealed the win for him.
    I don’t really know why, but I was always a big fan.
    I wish him well and thank him for some great memories.

  10. I recently met Mr. Peete for the first time at Palmer Park Golf Course in Detroit, MI. Mr Peete and Mr. Charlie Sifford were in town during PGA Championship week at Oakland Hills. They were there to meet with Mr. Ben Davis who is one of the most famous teaching professionals in Michigan history. One of the things that amazed me was how small Mr. Peete is. When you’re watching on TV they seem much bigger. I am very greatful to have met some of the legends of the game 🙂

  11. I always been a fan and always thought that he was a good man. He should have had more publicity and should be in the Hall of Fame.

  12. I saw Calvin Peete’s “Lessons from the Pros” last night on the Golf Channel (02/09/2009.)

    Thanks very much Calvin for demonstrating how easy this game really is.

    I’ve been around the game since I was 8 years old. My father was really my only golf “teacher.” I inherited his “slasher-type swing” including little or no follow-thru. Never thought to simply be sure to allow my right heel to lift up naturally upon impact (+) (-)for a more natural and increased follow through.

    Finally at age 60 I am re-learning a lot of things about the swing and tempo,etc. What a difference in distance by simply letting go with that right heel !!

    I clearly recall Calvin Peete’s tempo when he was playing competitively. Too bad I did not log-on to that nice tempo of his.

    That swing that Calvin Peete still has is what all of us average golfers need to remember.

  13. I watched Mr. Calvin Peete give lessons on the Golf Channel last night(02/09/2009). I really enjoyed the information that he shared with all viewers.

    My question is, “Where can I purchase a tape of Mr. Peete with his golf lesson from last night and other important golf information?”.

  14. One of the most memorable moments in sports to me was watching Calvin Peete play. That was the first time I saw a hole in one on TV what a moment!

  15. I learned more from his five minute lesson on chipping and pitching the ball than fifty years of playing.

  16. We can all learn somthing from Calvin Peete–Truly a gifted golfer that overcame many barriers. I loved watching him golf and literally beat up his fellow golfers when it came to how accurate he was—–I feel sorry for young golfers that never will have an opportunity to have seen him play.

  17. I made a comment some time back but I have a question. Is there any cd’s with him playing. I was always pullling for him when watching TV.

  18. I followed Mr Peete’s groups at each of his Anheuser-Busch victories in Williamsburg, VA. I’ve never seen anyone play with a more beautiful consistent stroke. I’ve been surprised over the past few years to rarely hear him mentioned in TV broadcasts. He is a significant player in the history of the PGA Tour having won 12 tournaments ( 11 in just 5 years)

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