Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Golf Hall setup is too easy

For a game that generally demands the highest standards and decorum, requirements for gaining entrance to the World Golf Hall of Fame have always seemed just a little too vague and a little too low to us in the Grill Room.

On Monday night, Lanny Wadkins, Jose Maria Olazabal and Christy O'Connor Sr. were inducted into golf's shrine to itself in St. Augustine, Fla.

These three gents join the likes of Tony Jacklin, Gene Littler and Larry Nelson -- to randomly pick just a few of the head-scratching members for no good reason at all -- as inductees.
It is not like these guys weren't good players. They were very good, in fact, but don't belong anywhere near the likes of Nicklaus, Palmer, Jones and Hogan in anything resembling a nod to greatness.

I guess this doesn't make it unlike so many of the other sports Halls these days. It seems like the NFL, for one, lowers its standards of greatness each year. Baseball has lately been called by some the Hall of Good, so maybe we're being a little hard on golf and the players it considers great. It just seems like more should be expected of the world's greatest game.

Wadkins was like players of more recent vintage, Fred Couples and Davis Love III, who had a ton of game and should have won more, but didn't. Mostly, that's because Wadkins had no back-off button on the golf course. It was said that he never saw a pin he didn't like. His go-for-broke approach no doubt speared him a few of his wins, but most likely cost him many more.

Wadkins managed to win a very respectable 21 tour events, including the 1977 PGA Championship, his one and only major. He also won the venerable U.S. Amateur, and was one of the United State's great Ryder Cup players, racking up an impressive 20-11-3 record in the event.

Wadkins, who will be 60 next month, has been pretty outspoken lately about not being included for induction earlier with contemporaries like Hubert Green and Nelson. In fact, Wadkins has never been shy about saying what's on his mind, which made his wishy-washy approach as the game's lead analyst on CBS all the more baffling.

CBS dumped him in 2007, after five languid years behind the mic. While he remains dumbfounded by this decision, he was clear about what Monday night's honor meant.

"To join this (Hall) and be a part of something with my heroes ... I am honored beyond belief," Wadkins said.

Frankly, I've always had a particularly soft spot for Olazabal (pictured), even if I do question his Hall-of-Fame credentials.

I named a dog after him once back when I was being paid to cover the sport a very long time ago. Yes, I realize that both of those developments are equally pathetic.

Olazabal the golfer, comes from a small fishing village in the north of Spain, has always carried himself like a gentleman and let his clubs do most of his talking in his prime. Olazabal the dog was a royal pain in the ass, who came from hell. (Sorry, I obviously have unresolved issues where this dog is concerned.)

Olazabal the golfer is best known for winning two Masters and partnering with countryman Seve Ballesteros in the Ryder Cup to rain terror on the Americans. The Spaniards were as responsible as any Euro not named Montgomerie for turning around that continent's fortunes in the bi-annual event. Ballesteros and Olazabal amassing a gaudy 11-2-2 record playing together, and
Olazabal sports a solid 18-8-2 overall record in the event.

In my book, Olazabal has been one of the two or three best putters in the game over the past 20 years or so, which mostly explains his stellar record on the slippery greens of Augusta.

Too often his game has gone sideways off the tee, however, or he would have undoubtedly improved on his record of 23 wins on the European Tour and six more on the PGA Tour.

Included in that PGA resume is one of the most impressive ball-striking exhibitions I have ever seen.
Olazabal won the 1990 World Series of Golf at Firestone Country Club by a whopping 12 strokes. The Spaniard, who was a mere 24 at the time, opened with a 61, and then lit the brute of a course up with three consecutive 67s, to finish an unheard of 26-under.
It's ironic that the long-distance runner-up in that event was none other than one Lanny Wadkins.

Admittedly, I know little about O'Connor, 84, beside what I've read. His record says he won 24 times on the European Tour and played in a mess of Ryder Cups. I'm sure the guy was a very good player, which is good enough these days to get a seat next to the game's greats.

A footnote: President Dwight D. Eisenhower was also posthumously admitted to the Hall Monday night. Eisenhower was the most prolific of all our golfing presidents, playing an estimated 800 rounds during his presidency. With apologies to the above three inductees, that is a statistic worth getting excited about!

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