PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — It’s always kind of sad when only one amateur makes the cut in the Masters or the U.S. Open, and for the rest of the weekend the low am competition is reduced to, Can the guy stay upright?
And so it was this week at The Players Championship at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. (Doesn’t that just trip off the tongue?) Tim Finchem, in his continuing effort to take his leads from the masters at Augusta National, this year will hand out an (imaginary) award to the low Hall of Famer. It’s called The Doug, in honor of 2011 inductee Doug Ford, a man’s man and a thorn in the backside of the lodge brothers who ran golf back in Ford’s day, the Elvis Era.
There were three Hall of Famers in the field this week. Vijay Singh, who got in in 2006. Ernie Els, who got in last year. And Phil Mickelson, who got in this week. Of the three, only Phil made the cut. He’s getting The Doug.
The Doug’s a big ol’ solid gold ball marker, the exact size of the silver medal you get for being the runner-up in the U.S. Open. (Phil has five of those). It has Doug Ford’s face on one side and his buddy Bob Goalby’s on the other. It’s damn good-looking.
It’s either very weird or very cool that golf’s Hall of Famers still compete in the game’s biggest events. Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza, both in their 40s just like Singh and Els and Mickelson, are never going to face one another again in anger, at least not at a distance of 60’6”. Both will be candidates for Cooperstown next year. A baseball player can become a candidate for the Hall of Fame five years after he retires.
You can’t do that in golf, because nobody really retires. Players retire for a while and then they unretire, just like the boxers. They’re undependable.
This year’s Hall of Fame class was excellent. Dan Jenkins thanked the academy for inducting him while he was still vertical. He’s 82. He should have been put in a decade ago. Sandy Lyle is 54. He’s totally deserving, but his induction might have been better some years from now, when he could be really reflective about what this golfing life means to him.
As for Phil, 41 and strong as an ox, his induction probably came 20 years too early. Between now and his first pension check, he could win three more majors, easily. He’s a work-in-progress. A Hall of Fame is supposed to celebrate a body of work.
But the really worrisome thing, looking at the field at the Players this week, is who are the future Hall of Famers going to be? Tiger Woods, of course. He’s getting in at 40, the legal minimum age. Angel Cabrera is probably going to get in. Davis Love will likely get in. Retief Goosen, who has won all over the world and has won two U.S Opens, will probably get in, too. But except for Woods, there’s not a single no-brainer Hall of Famer playing the PGA Tour today. Not one.
So who is playing the Tour today who could maybe have a Hall of Fame career? Rory McIlroy could, but we can’t possibly know now. Put Keegan Bradley’s name in that preceding sentence if you like. Luke Donald? Jim Furyk? Lee Westwood? They have miles and miles to go to get to St. Augustine and their march is all uphill.
The point being, this class of 2012—Phil, Jenkins, Lyle, Peter Alliss, Hollis Stacy—was a great class, and it might be the last great class. There will be worthy candidates to come from women’s golf and in the Lifetime Achievement category. Sandy Tatum, the former USGA president, should be in the Hall. You can make a case for Butch Harmon, the most accomplished teacher of his generation. Among the ancients, pretty much everybody who should be in is in. (Dave Stockton, not an ancient, should be in.) Joe Jemsek, the Chicago golf-course developer, could be a good candidate. Maybe the late Ely Callaway. Among players, there will be worthy candidates to come from Japan and other faraway places. But how about the PGA Tour? Why is the PGA Tour not producing future Hall of Famers?
This year, on the Thursday of the Players, at least there were three golfers playing for The Doug. Ten and 20 years from now, there may be fewer than that. In fact, there could very well be none. And then what will the commissioner do with The Doug, put it in a case in the Tour’s XXL clubhouse for people to gawk at?
But that’s not a problem for the Tour at all, compared to this: what Tour players are actually Hall-worthy?