ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (AP) — Lanny Wadkins, Jose Maria Olazabal and Christy O’Connor Sr. were inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday night, a reward for hundreds of international victories and stellar performances under intense pressure in the Ryder Cup.
Joining them posthumously was President Dwight Eisenhower, whose love of golf has been credited for a surge in interest in the game while he was in office from 1952-1960. The number of people who took up golf in those years more than doubled, and golf historians credit a good portion of that surge to Eisenhower’s visibility in playing the sport.
Eisenhower was said to have played golf more than 800 times during his eight years as president, and was a member of the Augusta National Golf Club. He became the first U.S. President to be a member of the Hall of Fame.
“We’d talk a lot when we played, but he always wanted to go back to talking about golf and how much he wanted to play golf,” said Hall-of-Famer Arnold Palmer, a lifelong friend of Eisenhower’s who made the presentation speech on behalf of the family. “He knew how important it was to take away the stress and strain of his life.”
Wadkins, the son of a Richmond, Va., truck driver, won the U.S. Amateur title while at Wake Forest, then joined the PGA Tour and won 21 times, including the 1977 PGA Championship and the 1979 Players Championship. He was 20-11-3 in the Ryder Cup and is tied with Palmer for the most doubles victories.
“To join this (Hall) and be a part of something with my heroes … I am honored beyond belief,” Wadkins said.
Olazabal first played golf at the age of 2, encouraged by his father, a greenskeeper at a public course in the Basque region of Spain. Olazabal was 18-8-2 in the Ryder Cup, and won the Masters in 1994 and 1999.
The most emotional point of the night came when Olazabal’s mentor and Ryder Cup teammate, Seve Ballesteros, made the presentation speech for Olazabal on a video. Ballesteros has been battling brain cancer since December 2008 and was unable to travel.
“Enjoy this special night, and from me, receive a big hug,” Ballesteros said on the video, in halting English.
Olazabal came to the podium in tears, and thanked Ballesteros for not only helping him with his career, but for partnering with him in the Ryder Cup to compile an 11-2-2 record in doubles.
“I was never a genius like you,” Olazabal said. “All I could hope for is for you to be proud of me.”
O’Connor, 84, could not travel from Ireland for the ceremony because of his health. At one time, he held the record for the most appearances in the Ryder Cup, and he won 24 times on the European Tour.