When the World Golf Hall of Fame announced its “Class of ‘19,” the inclusion of Peggy Kirk Bell illustrated much of what’s wrong with that noble but misbegotten institution.
It’s not that she isn’t worthy of induction. Quite the opposite: She deserved it years ago. Bell lived 95 years, but the Hall waited until two years after her passing to bestow its grace.
Thus can an intended honor seem like a clumsy insult. She deserved better.
One can debate the merits of those awarded lockers in the Hall before Bell, including administrators, two U.S. presidents, an agent, a few writers and a TV producer. It’s tougher to reconcile her not making it ahead of the 10 men inducted over the last dozen years despite being long dead.
Is it a Hall of Fame or a mausoleum?
Tom Weiskopf is 75 years old. Is he too going to be given a crypt in St. Augustine rather than his due as an inductee?
Hall of Fame debates keep the Twitter fires burning in every sport. Even hotly debated snubs can be positives: Witness baseball stiff-arm Pete Rose and steroid-era standouts such as Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens. On the other side of the net, tennis admitted Michael Chang and Gabriela Sabatini on slender résumés.
Every Hall of Fame class is apt to be argued more for the names omitted than those honored. Golf’s is no different. Though until changing to an every-two-years ceremony in 2013, golf inducted a new class annually, which makes it all the more impressive that it has managed to overlook so many worthy candidates.
Other than Weiskopf – who warrants inclusion as both competitor and course architect – consider who else hasn’t been enshrined. Bill Coore, the finest living course designer we have. Legendary teacher Butch Harmon. Butch’s late father, Claude Harmon, should be in there too, along with a handful of accomplished and almost forgotten players such as Tony Lema, Macdonald Smith, Norman Von Nida and Jim Ferrier.
“My dad has always said his father should be in, but it’s a complete joke that my dad isn’t in,” said Claude Harmon III, who coaches Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson.
Both Harmons are deserving, but I vote we favor the living in scheduling inductions. The dead are in no rush.
The tardy selection of Peggy Kirk Bell isn’t the first time the Hall has soured what ought to be a special achievement.
Last year’s ceremony was in New York, a lavish affair so tedious and drawn-out that I feared some older Hall of Famers present might make the “In Memoriam” list before the evening ended. Earlier that day I met with Ian Woosnam, one of the inductees. Woosie won the Masters, was ranked World No. 1 and had more than 50 career victories. I asked if it rankled that he didn’t get the call to the Hall until he was almost 60 years old, after years of seeing others with less impressive careers cut in line.
“What do you think?” he answered with a thin smile.
Part of the problem lies in the vetting and selection of candidates. That is determined by two committees, both stacked with officials from various Tours and governing bodies. Honorable people all, but it stretches credulity to assume that every decision is free of institutional or personal bias toward particular candidates.
Take Colin Montgomerie, “Class of ’13.”
He was inducted in the since-discontinued “International” category, the mere existence of which suggested myopic parochialism for a “World” Hall of Fame. An argument can be made for Monty despite the absence of a major championship victory. He won 31 times in Europe and topped the Order of Merit for seven consecutive years.
But it seemed awfully convenient that he was inducted three months before turning 50, since his sole eligibility to compete on the PGA Tour Champions was based on – you guessed it – his membership in the Hall of Fame. While Monty ambled up to the podium and took his place among the gods of the game, folks like Woosnam and Bell and Weiskopf waited.
The Hall of Fame should be free of any suggestion that calls are influenced by Tour politics, business interests or personality issues. Few believe that to be the case. The “Class of ’19” are worthy of the Hall. It’s time the Hall was worthy of its members.
Golfweek, October 14, 2018.