It’s never too late, and debate will rage no matter how honorees are selected.
That’s the takeaway from the news Wednesday that Englishwoman Laura Davies, Australian David Graham, American Mark O’Meara and the late, prolific course designer A.W. Tillinghast have been voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Left out this year was Ian Woosnam, the diminutive 29-time European Tour winner who spent 50 weeks as the No. 1 player in golf and won the 1991 Masters.
“Some things are worth waiting for,” Graham told Golf.com Wednesday.
This was the first year that golf writers were largely omitted from the process, with a 16-member panel deciding who was HOF worthy. The panel included Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, whom Graham believes fought on his behalf; several high-ranking golf administrators, including PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and R&A chief Peter Dawson; and three members of the golf press.
Players are usually inducted into the Hall the week of the Players Championship in May, but ceremonies were suspended this year as the powers that be reevaluated the process. Fred Couples (one major) and Colin Montgomerie (no majors) had been inducted in 2013 — ahead of both Graham and O’Meara (two majors each) — and critics were questioning the selection criteria.
Graham racked up 35 professional victories, including two majors, eight PGA Tour titles, and five on the Champions Tour. His closing 67 at the 1981 U.S. Open at Merion is a benchmark for tournament golf. Graham hit every fairway but the first, and essentially every green in regulation (his ball twice rolled onto the fringe). In phoning the winner, Ben Hogan praised Graham for, “one of the best rounds of golf I’ve ever seen.”
Graham, 68, said he was at a carwash in Dallas when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem called with the good news on Monday.
“He asked me to please not say anything to anybody, which was extremely hard for me to do,” Graham said by phone from Preston Trail Golf Club. “I cheated a little. I had lunch with President [George W.] Bush on Tuesday, and I felt like he could keep a secret, so I told him. And I told my friend Lee Trevino, who had fought on my behalf.”
Four-time major winner Davies is considered England’s greatest-ever female golfer, and O’Meara won both the Masters and British Open in 1998.
The induction ceremony will be held not at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., but at St. Andrews on July 13, 2015, the Monday of British Open week.
That’s one of several changes to the Hall’s selection and induction process that Graham believes have restored the sanctity of the institution.
“It’s more black and white now,” he said. “Players like Gary Player and Mr. Palmer have a lot more input, the criteria are now published, which takes away the gray area that may have existed before. I give Finchem full credit for saying the Hall of Fame is a place that needs to be persevered and protected, not humiliated and embarrassed. He saw that there was a problem and he fixed it. He put Arnold Palmer in there [on the 16-person panel], Gary Player in there, Annika Sorenstam in there — people that know golf.”
Graham’s greatness may have been slightly overshadowed by his abrupt retirement. He collapsed while sizing up a putt at the 2004 Bank of America Championship, and his diseased heart was found to be pumping at only 12 percent of normal volume. He still takes more than 10 pills every day, but says he feels reasonably healthy and still plays golf. In his prime, he was one of the most exacting players in the game.
“I loved to play,” Graham told me for a 2008 Golf Magazine profile. “I loved the challenge, I loved to practice, I loved to get boxes of new clubs in the mail that I’d go to the range and pound on balls. I used to love to get up at 2 o’clock in the morning and go out to my workshop and grab a shaft and a head and a grip and make a putter and let the glue dry overnight and get up the next morning because it was going to be the best putter I ever had, you know?”
That dedication to the craft paid off at the 1979 PGA at Oakland Hills, where he beat Ben Crenshaw in a playoff. Graham won the U.S. Open at Merion two years later.
When he came to America in 1969, after toiling as an assistant pro in Australia, Graham had nothing but his trade and determination. “He was like me,” Trevino told me for that 2008 story: an outsider who had to play his way in. Now he’s played his way into the Hall.
Still, Wednesday’s announcement wasn’t good news for everyone, most conspicuously Ian Harold Woosnam, 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 and earned 16½ points in eight Ryder appearances, for a winning percentage of .53. With a foursomes and fourballs record of 14-6-3, he simply was one of the greatest team players ever. Woosnam also captained Europe to victory at the 2006 Cup at the K Club in Ireland.
Is he Hall worthy? Consider: Couples also finished his career with one major (also a Masters). He won 14 PGA Tour titles, less than half Woosnam’s total in Europe. And with a 7-9-4 record in five Ryder appearances, Couples’s .45 winning percentage and 9 career points also fails to measure up to Woosnam.
Oh, well. If there were no debates, there would be no Hall. And as Graham’s case illustrates, one shouldn’t lose hope.