We'd vote for these six trailblazers for the World Golf Hall of Fame -- if we still had a ballot!
That massive edifice in St. Augustine, Fla., is not called the Hall of Tournament Winners or the Hall of Contributors to the Sport. It is the Hall of Fame, and the most celebrated, important and, yes, famous moment in golf history is the 1913 U.S. Open. Francis Ouimet, a slender 20-year-old caddie from the wrong side of the tracks, hit all the shots to beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff, but what gave the event so much romance was Ouimet's pint-sized caddie, Eddie Lowery. He was only 10, and the picture of Lowery and Ouimet marching side by side at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., is what brought the victory so much fame. In recent years the Hall has welcomed bureaucrats, writers and course designers, but still no caddies. Given his prominent role in history, Lowery deserves to be the first.
His candidacy is strengthened by the remarkable golfing life that followed Brookline. Lowery was an accomplished player who won the 1919 Massachusetts junior championship and later the state amateur. He never finished high school, but he became a self-made millionaire who would take membership in America's greatest golf clubs, including Cypress Point, San Francisco, Augusta National and Seminole. He became a fixture at the Crosby Clambake, winning the pro-am portion alongside Byron Nelson in 1955. Lowery served on the USGA executive committee, working tirelessly to improve the science of turf management. He also chaired the 1956 U.S. Public Links Championship and served as president of the Northern California Golf Association and later the International Seniors Amateur Golf Society.
Lowery delighted in giving back to the game that gave him so much, sponsoring numerous young players, notably Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward. In 1956 he brought them together at Cypress to play the Match versus Nelson and Ben Hogan. As a bit of folklore, it's one of the few moments in golf history that can approach the 1913 U.S. Open. For his myriad contributions, Lowery came to be known simply as Mr. Golf. It's time for this sport's Hall of Fame to recognize one of the most fascinating characters from its past.
Ernie Deacon & Faris McMullin
Spiked shoes, you must remind young people, were what golfers wore for most of the 20th century. Designed to bind the swinging player to the ground as securely as a Realtor's yard sign, steel spikes went click, clack, click when deployed on concrete cart paths. They made shoes heavy and rigid. They also killed grass, but nobody noticed.
Correction: Ernie Deacon and Faris McMullin noticed. Deacon, who managed the Warm Springs Golf Course in Boise, Idaho, banned spiked shoes every winter "because you'd be putting on mud." It occurred to him that a noninvasive cleat that screwed into existing shoes—a replacement traction device—might solve the problem. He took his idea to McMullin, an inventor, whose first response was, "You'll need to sell a gazillion of these things to make any money."
Nevertheless McMullin designed a polyurethane disk with swirly traction elements, now known as U.S. Patent No. 5,259,129: Winter Golf Shoe Spikes. Marketed in the mid-'90s as Softspikes, they were an immediate hit with greenkeepers, agronomists and weekend golfers. Tour pros were slower to accept the new cleats (Tom Watson called them "dangerous"), but today virtually every golfer wears plastic-spiked or spikeless shoes and is rewarded with silky smooth greens.
If that doesn't impress you, here's what former USGA senior technical director Dick Rugge said when asked to name golf's most important equipment innovation of the last two decades: "Has to be Softspikes, don't you think?"
For that, Ernie and Faris belong in the Hall.
Meg Mallon likes golf as much as anybody. You'll see her as a spectator at PGA Tour, LPGA and amateur events. She'll talk golf with anybody. She loves to play and is often at Pine Tree, in South Florida, teeing it up with Beth Daniel or Karrie Webb or everyday golfers. Pro-am partners talk about their experiences with Mallon for years. She breathes the game and is an exemplary ambassador for it. She played on eight Solheim Cup teams and last year captained the U.S. side. So if there was any question about whether she belongs in the Hall of Fame, that should tip the balance in her favor.
But there's not. Between 1991 and 2004, Mallon won 18 LPGA events, beating the likes of Pat Bradley early on, Annika Sorenstam in the middle and Lorena Ochoa at the end. Mallon won four majors, including the 1991 LPGA Championship and the 2000 du Maurier Classic. She won the Canadian Open twice, and you always have to pay special attention to national championships.
That gets us to her other two majors: the 1991 and 2004 U.S. Women's Opens. In between those victories she contended in five others. It's an astounding record in the most important event in women's golf.
For years the LPGA adhered to a strict point system to determine who got into the Hall. The standards were admirably high, but the system was flawed. The proof is that a truly distinguished player such as Mallon got left out. But now, with the overhaul of voting procedures, that point system is being scrapped. Mallon will get in, or she should. And a good time will be had by all.
In his Champagne Tony persona, Lema was the top draw in golf in the mid-1960s after the Big Three of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Lema's galleries, drawn to his charisma, personality and flair for golf, nearly rivaled Palmer's.
His legend began at the 1962 Orange County Open. Lema, a journeyman who held the third-round lead, was sipping a beer and chatting with writers when he promised, "If I win this thing tomorrow, it'll be champagne all around, not beers." He won, sent champagne to the press room and became an overnight sensation.
For several years after that first champagne victory, Lema was as good as anyone in the game. He won a dozen tournaments, including the 1964 British Open at St. Andrews, where he beat Nicklaus by five shots. (Palmer had urged Lema to play and loaned him his putter and his expert caddie, Tip Anderson.) From '63 to '66, Lema finished in the top 10 in eight of 16 majors, including as runner-up to Nicklaus at the '63 Masters. He won four other Tour events in '64, including the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am; he was in the top 10 in more than half of the events he entered; and he was a feared opponent in his two Ryder Cup appearances, amassing an 8-1-2 mark.
After the 1966 PGA Championship, Lema was flying in a twin-engine charter plane from Akron, Ohio, to a Chicago-area exhibition. The plane crashed on a golf course on the Indiana-Illinois border, killing Lema; his wife, Betty; the pilot; and the co-pilot.
Lema was 32. He never saw the prime years of his playing career. Or the champagne that surely would have followed.
—Gary Van Sickle
Years ago, not long after he won the 1991 Masters and subsequently spent 50 weeks atop the World Ranking, Ian Woosnam was playing a practice round when a fan asked if she could take his picture.
"Do what you like," Woosnam said, dispensing with the platitudes as he strode up the fairway, his hunched, stolid bearing marked by a huge back and a pair of meaty forearms. I can't say for sure if he was smoking a cigarette, but that wasn't what made him cool, anyway.
Ian Harold Woosnam was cool because he didn't sweat his bluntness and because he did a lot with a little. He learned the game in his native Wales on a course with only 15 holes. The other three were in England. To save money in his early touring days, he ate tins of baked beans and drove around in a van. And at 5'4", Woosie was golf's premier little man—a 29-time European tour winner (twice finishing atop the Order of Merit) and Ryder Cup behemoth.
The smallest but in some cases mightiest of Europe's Big Five—with Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle—Woosnam went 14-12-5 in eight Ryder Cup appearances. Here's the amazing part: He was 0-6-2 in singles. With a foursomes and four-balls record of 14-6-3, he was simply one of the greatest team players ever. And he captained Europe to victory in 2006.
Is he Hall-worthy? Consider this: Hall of Famer Fred Couples has also won one major, the 1992 Masters. He has 15 PGA Tour titles, barely half of Woosnam's total in Europe. And with a 7-9-4 Ryder Cup record, Couples fails to measure up to Woosie in that category as well. Should the wee Welshman be in the Hall? Of course he should. But hey, do what you like.