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Huggan column: Golf’s Hall of Fame? It’s a house of cronies!

Colin Montgomerie was inducted three years ago, and rightly so, but where is Ian Woosnam's recognition writes John Huggan (photo by Getty Images)

Colin Montgomerie was inducted three years ago, and rightly so, but where is Ian Woosnam’s recognition writes John Huggan (photo by Getty Images)

by John Huggan

There is much to commend the World Golf Hall of Fame, located in St Augustine, Florida. For golf buffs of all shapes and sizes  – and nationalities – the hall is a fascinating place of pilgrimage, a brilliant blend of memorabilia and ancient artifacts that appropriately and reverentially celebrates the greatest game of all.

Having said that,  America’s love for the whole “hall of fame” concept is difficult to comprehend.

The New World’s seemingly undying adoration for the cult of even third division celebrity does go some way to explaining this strange phenomenon. But when something called the “Insurance Hall of Fame” in Alabama draws more than 250,000 visitors annually it is difficult not to wonder about what is going on over there.

Sadly, the same is also true when it comes to the seemingly arbitrary criteria used to determine who is and who isn’t granted entry to the hallowed premises. Things aren’t quite as bad as they used to be – the insultingly xenophobic “International Section”  in something called the “World” Golf Hall of Fame has, albeit belatedly, been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Even to someone of my limited IQ that never made any sense. Why distinguish between a great golfer from, say, Australia, and another from the US? Since when was country of origin relevant when comparing and assessing golfing talent?

And the newly introduced rule that inductees must be at least 50 years of age is an obvious step in the right direction. But, overall, the selection system continues to be laughably flawed and random.

For example, Neil Coles and Peter Alliss are almost direct contemporaries. Coles picked up 25 tournament victories over the course of his playing career and served as chairman of the European Tour for more than two decades. Alliss won 23 times around the world. Both men played in eight Ryder Cups for what was then the Great Britain & Ireland side. Throw in Alliss’ almost peerless broadcasting career on both sides of the Atlantic and we are surely looking at a virtual tie between the two. Yet Coles entered the hall in 2000 and Alliss had to wait until 2012. Go figure.

Then there is the perhaps even more egregious case of Tony Jacklin and Sandy Lyle. Yes, Jacklin played in more Ryder Cups than did dear old Sandy – seven versus five – but in every other way the Englishman’s competitive record is inferior to that of the genial Scot. Sandy won eight more European Tour events than did Jacklin. Sandy won two more PGA Tour events. Both finished first in two Major Championships, but Lyle also won the 1987 Players Championship – he was the first European to claim the so-called “fifth Major” – to break that tie. Yet Jacklin was inducted in 2002, a full decade ahead of Lyle. Bizarre.

And there is more. Three years after Colin Montgomerie was granted entry to the hall, Ian Woosnam inexplicably remains on the outside looking in. Both should be in there, of course. Both have legitimate claims. But if asked to choose between the records of each, the vast majority would surely opt for the achievements of the wee Welshman. In his time, Woosie won a Major Championship – the 1991 Masters  – and was ranked the best player in the world. Monty, for all that his storied career is clearly worthy of the hall, did neither.

Still, things are changing. But for the better? You have to wonder. Although the old system has gone – one that laughingly identified the likes of Chi-Chi Rodriguez, former US president George Bush (the first one), Bob Hope and Bing Crosby as worthy of admission – is a mixture of a fancy-titled “Selection Commission” and a “Selection Sub-Committee” made up of a supposedly knowledgeable and erudite group of insiders supposedly well-qualified to make more appropriate picks?

The repeated use of the word ‘supposedly’ is deliberate. A close look at this elite band of  ‘experts’ – ‘cronies’ is actually more accurate – reveals only yet another example of the game’s establishment looking after its already cosseted and pampered selves.

Let’s just say more than a few on the lengthy list betray a level of  ignorance that should disqualify them from this deeply flawed process. When it comes to judging those who play the game from which they all make a living, a significant number won’t have a Scooby-Doo.

Back in the days before this correspondent grew tired of the US-centric bias within the Hall of Fame voting, I routinely voted for the legendary Australian, Norman Von Nida.

Quite apart from his considerable and impressive playing career – he won three Aussie Opens, four Aussie PGAs, was twice third in The Open Championship and picked up many other titles at home and abroad – the ‘Von’ made an almost incalculable contribution to the game in Australia and beyond. It is difficult to find any of his contemporaries who did not benefit from his experience, advice and general largesse.

And yet, Von Nida is not in the Hall. Not even close. Every year, his share of the vote bordered on pitiful. Clearly the supposedly  ‘knowledgeable’ electorate was collectively anything but.

Even more disappointingly, this situation doesn’t look like changing any time soon.

The list of largely-blazered luminaries on the current selection bodies reveals only a very few who will even have heard of  Von Nida, never mind having the ability to recite even one illustrative anecdote regarding his colourful life on and off the course.

What a world. What a Hall. What a mess.

*This article was originally published in TGP on 6 April 2016.

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