Calvin Peete – The Legend

Calvin Peete was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1943 to Dennis and Irenia Peete.  Dennis was an automobile factory worker and Irenia a housekeeper. Calvin’s parents made sure that he and his siblings attended church regularly and insisted that they lookout for one another. While in Detroit, Calvin spent much of his time shooting marbles, playing football, basketball and other games with his friends. One highlight of Calvin’s childhood was when he and his brothers encountered Joe Louis at a local market.  He and his brothers, along with others, waited outside in the cold to get a better glimpse of the heavy weight champion. Calvin would later recall how “the champ” appeared like a giant to him. He too wanted to be a celebrity, just like the champ. Little did he know that one day he would have his shot!

At age eleven, Calvin’s life took a drastic turn when his parents decided to get a divorce. Leaving Detroit, his mother took the two youngest children, Calvin and his baby sister, to Missouri to live with their grandmother and one of their aunts.  Thinking he and his sister would be cared for, his mother left them behind and moved to Chicago to seek employment. It was her hope that once she established herself, she would bring them all back together. Calvin was not fond of the time he spent in Missouri. He had to quickly adjust, as there was little to eat, no indoor plumbing or electricity.  Unfortunately, learning how to live by candle light was the least of Calvin’s problems. He was given the tasks of chopping wood, gathering coal and collecting water from a pump.  He was forced to sleep outside, often in the cold, on the leaky porch of his aunt’s two-bedroom shack.  He was once beat for helping himself to some peanut butter that was left on a counter.  Distraught by the sudden change in lifestyle, Calvin often skipped school to pick pecans to earn money for food.

During a migrant worker trip to Michigan to pick fruit and earn extra money, Calvin fell from a cherry tree and broke his arm in three places.  Upon returning to Missouri, a local doctor examined Calvin’s broken arm and praised the Michigan’s doctors work, despite the fact that Calvin’s arm would never again extend fully.  The Missouri doctor felt it was better than the alternative, which would have been an amputation.

At age 14, Calvin was sent to Pahokee, Florida to reunite with his father, who had left Detroit to return to his hometown.  Calvin was delighted to be with his father again. Even though his father had remarried and had three stepchildren, he felt that it was better than the alternative. Being the oldest, Calvin was expected to care for his younger siblings and take on the household chores.  Having to fend for himself in Missouri, Calvin had become conditioned to hard work. Unfortunately, he had also become conditioned to not attending school on a regular basis.

School in Pahokee proved tough for Calvin. Even a misspelled word could have the consequence of getting whipped with an automobile fan belt. Calvin was often criticized by his teachers for dressing like he was from a big city instead of a small town.  Perhaps his style in clothes was influenced by his Motor City upbringing. Calvin enjoyed dress shirts, nice slacks and slick shoes. He would often challenge his classmates and teachers on their southern pronunciation of certain words.  His poor attendance record and struggle to fit in led to him dropping out of school in the 5th grade.  Instead of attending school, he decided to earn extra money by making baskets that were to be used by migrant workers to collect beans and corn. His father was among those picking such vegetables for a living. Eventually, Calvin supplemented his basket weaving income by learning how to hustle others in pool, cards or other common street games.

Seeking a greater opportunity, Calvin obtained a peddler’s license and began selling clothing and other wares to migrant workers.  Later he would purchase a station wagon, which allowed him to follow migrant workers up the east coast as they sought work.  While on a migrant trip in Rochester, New York, at the age of 23, Calvin was introduced to the game of golf.  His friends tricked him into going with them on what he thought was a clam bake; but instead, ended up being a golf course.  He expressed no interest in playing golf as he deemed it a “rich white man’s game,” and not one of the rough and tumble sports to which he was accustomed to playing.  Nevertheless, instead of sitting around for hours waiting for his friends to finish their round of golf, he reluctantly rented a set of clubs and joined them on the course.  Gripping the club for the first time, Calvin claimed that he heard a voice from God saying “This is what I want you to do.” Instantly hooked, Calvin proved to be a natural. Remarkably, having never held a golf club before, he parred a hole on his first round.

Returning to Florida, Calvin practiced the game of golf, day and night (whenever the park lights were left on) until his hands would bleed.  Within 6 months he was scoring in the 80’s.  Despite his early success, Calvin was not yet convinced that he could play in the PGA; until, one day, he had come in from a thunderstorm and while sitting in a golf clubhouse watching television, when he saw a Black golfer, Lee Elder, go toe to toe with the legendary Jack Nicklaus in a sudden death playoff in a PGA tour event.  That was the moment that convinced Calvin that he, too, could at play golf’s highest level. He worked hard to perfect his new craft and was finally admitted to the PGA at the age of 32.

Before Calvin came along, a crooked left arm was thought to be a stumbling block to being able to hit an effective golf shot.  Calvin proved this theory wrong when he, during a 10-year stretch, led the PGA in hitting fairways and became known as “Mr. Accuracy.”  Calvin would compete and win 12 PGA titles; including, the famed Player’s Championship in Ponte Vedra, Florida.  He would be selected to play on two Ryder Cup teams. However, a long-standing rule required a high school diploma to play in Ryder Cup event. Undeterred, Calvin went back to school (in his forties) to earn a high school equivalency diploma to allow him to compete in this tournament.

While climbing to golf’s pinnacle, Calvin loved and remained committed to his family.  Always seeking to inspire others, he became a model citizen in his community. Although Calvin passed away in 2015, he will always be remembered for his dedication to hard work, his resilience and his unconquerable spirit.  We will especially remember him for how he maintained poise and was able to effectively execute his strategy on the PGA Tour.