The presidential election was held in November, but the really important election is starting now. That would be the election for the World Golf Hall of Fame.
There are worthy candidates, as usual, just not as many as there used to be. In an effort to turn the induction ceremony into a big event (translation: television show), Hall of Famers are being anointed at an alarming rate — 22 in the last four years, 50 in the last nine (50!). The inductions are bound to slow to a trickle, or the standard for a Hall of Fame career will drop faster than my 401k.
Hall of Fame voting is generally a topic reserved for old, grizzled writers and editors. I might go out to get grizzled later, so I thought I’d offer my two cents.
There are two ballots, due back by March. One includes a dozen international candidates, men whose careers were played mostly outside the United States. The other is the PGA Tour ballot, featuring 15 names, including Fred Couples, Davis Love, Mark O’Meara, Lanny Wadkins and Fuzzy Zoeller.
In a not very subtle attempt to push the nomination of Japan’s Masashi (Jumbo) Ozaki, the international ballot included a makeshift point system to guide voters. It assigns a value of three points for every PGA or European tour victory, four for a Players Championship and six for a major championship. A victory on the Japanese, South African, Australian or Champions tours is worth two points. One point is awarded for any other national championship, Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup appearance.
To help out the voters, the international nominees have their point totals listed. (In my opinion, if they need this much help, they shouldn’t have a ballot.) The numbers look like this: Ozaki 225; Graham Marsh 114; Colin Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam, 106; Christy O’Connor Sr. 100; Jose Maria Olazabal 98; Sandy Lyle 82; Norman Von Nida 78; Peter Allis 73, and the rest.
There are several serious flaws in this points system. Since when is winning on the Champions tour equal to winning in Japan, South Africa or Australia? Regular Champions tour events are limited to 78 players, at least a third of whom are there for nostalgia and not truly competitive. A win at the Bruno’s Classic is equal to winning the Australian PGA? Wrong, wrong, wrong. You don’t make it into the Hall based on your senior golf record. Champions tour results shouldn’t count, period. They are not relevant.
In addition, those points unfairly tilt the scales toward modern players. Von Nida, an Australian great, and Allis, one of England’s finest players for two decades, didn’t have a senior tour to play on, nor did they have a Presidents Cup. Somehow, Graham Marsh winds up second on this list despite no major championships and only one PGA Tour win to go with 11 in Europe. He had another 30 in Japan and Asia, six in senior golf. It is impossible to see him as more Hall-worthy than major champs such as Woosnam, Olazabal and Lyle, or eight-time European Order of Merit winner Montgomerie.
Ozaki has been overlooked in past balloting. He has 111 victories in Japan and led the Japanese tour in money 12 times between 1973 and 1998. His stats make him a slam dunk for the Hall except for two things: he only won once outside Japan, at the 1972 New Zealand PGA; and the quality of Japanese competition was weak for decades.
Oddly, this points system wasn’t mentioned in the voting booklet for the regular nominees, thus furthering my suspicion that it was designed to win support for Ozaki. So, I applied the points system to the regular nominees, but I leveled the playing field by eliminating points for Champions tour wins and Presidents Cup appearances. Here are the totals: Wadkins 75; Macdonald Smith 72; Love 71; Doug Ford 67; O’Meara 60; Couples 55; Jug McSpaden 51; Ken Venturi 46; Fuzzy Zoeller 39; Kenny Perry and Dave Stockton 38; Tony Lema 37. (John Daly and David Toms are among eligible players not on the ballot because they went consecutive years without receiving at least five percent of the votes.)
The career stats make Wadkins an obvious choice. He has 21 PGA Tour wins, one more than Love. Both won a PGA Championship. Wadkins won a Players; Love won two. Wadkins made eight Ryder Cup teams during a 16-year span; Love made six, giving Lanny a big edge in longevity. Wadkins was also one of the most feared competitors of his era. Love may indeed be Hall-worthy, but he shouldn’t get there before Wadkins.
Smith, a Scot, won 24 times without a modern major championship. However, the Western Open, which he won three times, was a major in his day. Credit him with three majors, and he is a strong candidate. So, too, is Lema, who had 11 victories, including a British Open, before he was killed in a plane crash at 32. If Champagne Tony had 10 more years, how many trophies would he have added? Plenty. But Smith and Lema were named on just 18 percent of last year’s ballots.
Doug Ford won 19 times, including a PGA and a Masters, a resume that matches or exceeds those of Hall enshrinees such as Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Curtis Strange and Hubert Green. There’s hope for Ford, who was fourth in last year’s voting with 35%. Wadkins, with 52%, had the highest vote total among those who weren’t inducted.
One thing is sure: the voting in both categories is going to be interesting and unpredictable. Is majorless Monty going to make the Hall? Will Lyle, snubbed for the European Ryder Cup captaincy, be snubbed by Hall voters, too? Will voters ever take Ozaki’s record seriously? Does anyone remember the great Lema? Will Wadkins, Love or anyone on the regular ballot get the necessary 65 percent, or will there be a Hall of Fame shutout?
I don’t have any answers, just a ballot. As they used to say in Chicago, vote early and often.