Written by Written by Maegan Carberry, CNN
Remember where you were on Wednesday, 27th July 1997. Yeah, that’s right — the United States PGA Tour had just introduced its first openly gay member, Patrick Muirhead , through its broadcast rights partnership with ABC.
Muirhead’s announcement was broadcast worldwide, including a U.S. edition of the American news magazine “Out,” and attracted both support and opposition.
Most largely, it created immense interest in golf and questions about the perception of gay players in the game. “The sports world and golf in particular have not been keen on discussing the gay issue,” Muirhead said. “I was sure that, to break the ice, I would reveal some private information — for instance, how old I was or whether I had ever been in love.”
Everything I knew in my life already was out there.
The CBS deal, in partnership with ABC, would conclude in June 1996, before Muirhead would make his public announcement — “I had it in my mind that I would come out when the contract was finished,” he recalled in a 1999 interview.
Afterwards, tournament hosts and members privately responded with concern and concerns that Muirhead would be perceived as “damaging the image of the game” and thereby would damage his status in the sport — but they had not reckoned with the prospect of a major American player having made such a public declaration. In a press release, PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman wrote: “The PGA of America…strongly applauds [Muirhead’s] courage and our thoughts and prayers are with him.”
The shock of his admission was evident from the press conference he held at Pinehurst to announce his decision. Lying in the chair of the press conference stage and being grilled by as many media members as were in attendance, were not just reporters but fellow players like Ben Crenshaw, who had taken Muirhead out for dinner during the US PGA Championship.