ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla.—The moon was full, the sky was clear and the night was full of
emotion as the World Golf Hall of Fame inducted four new members Monday night.
Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, Ryder Cup legend Christy
O’Connor Sr. of Ireland, PGA champion Lanny Wadkins and former President Dwight
Eisenhower were installed during ceremonies at the World Golf Village.
Some highlights of the evening:
- The introduction of Olazabal included a video message by fellow Hall of Famer and
countryman Seve Ballesteros, who is battling cancer. Seve sent his friend a
message of heartfelt congratulations and his fans a message that he’s still
alive and fighting. Ballesteros looked haggard and wore a cap but spoke with
energy and sincerity.
- O’Connor’s nephew, Christy O’Connor Jr., a former Ryder Cupper himself, accepted the honor on behalf of his uncle, who didn’t feel up to the challenge of flying across
the Atlantic to appear in person. The senior O’Connor did send a wonderful video message in which he apologized profusely for his absence. The video also showed him still playing golf at his home course, Royal Dublin, robust for a man of 84. “It’s a great honor at my age—22 and a bit,” said O’Connor, drawing a laugh from the audience. “I wonder if I might have enjoyed the honor earlier, but this time is as good as any.”
- Olazabal paused several times during his speech, choking up with emotion, as he thanked the many people who helped his career. He made a special gesture to his parents, Gaspar and Julianna, who were sitting in the front row, and thanked them in Spanish.
- Arnold Palmer accepted the honor for Eisenhower, a good friend of his, and told the
story of how Ike (Eisenhower asked Palmer to call him that) had called Masters chairman Clifford Roberts to see if he could play with the Masters champion on the Monday after the tournament. Roberts said he’d ask the winner if it was OK. It turned out to be Palmer. Shortly after the awards ceremony, Roberts approached Palmer with Eisenhower’s request and wondered if Palmer could adjust his schedule for Monday golf. “If the President can adjust his schedule,” Palmer told him, “I can adjust mine.”
- The one awkward moment of the ceremony came when Palmer began to tell a story about his late wife, Winnie, wanting to surprise him for his birthday. She set up a surprise visit from Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie. As Palmer told the story, Golf Channel cameras
zoomed in on Kit, his current wife. It was a look-away moment. The punchline of the story, by the way, was Arnie answering the doorbell as he was about to head over to the golf club. He was stunned to see the Eisenhowers on his doorstep. “Can you put up an old man for the weekend?” Ike asked. Palmer was pleased to do so.
- Wadkins rivaled Olazabal for the most emotional speech. Lanny made a point to
thank a lot of people who helped him along the way, from Wake Forest Coach Jesse
Haddock to the late Dick Harmon, among others. He saved a special thank you for
his brother, Bobby, who also played on the tour. Bobby, sitting in the crowd,
turned red and had quivering lips as he tried to hold back tears while Lanny,
also battling his emotions, said haltingly, “I wouldn’t be here without Bobby.
He pushed me at every point along the way. So thank you, Bobby.”
- A number of Hall of Fame members in attendance were introduced to the crowd by
the night’s emcee, Rich Lerner of Golf Channel. The Hall of Famers on site
included LPGA founder Louise Suggs, Carol Semple Thompson, Palmer, Charlie
Sifford (who got a loud roar), Carol Mann, Marlene Streit Stewart, JoAnne
Carner and former PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman. More from Golf.com: Wadkins | Olazabal | Palmer