NEW YORK – Davis Love III was driving south from Georgia down I-95 to go paddle boarding along the northern Florida coast not long ago, and looked up through the window of his pickup truck to see a billboard promoting the World Golf Hall of Fame in nearby St. Augustine.
Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were looking back at him. That’s when it sort of hit him that he’d soon be joining them in golf’s most difficult-to-enter club.
Tuesday night at Cipriani Wall Street in the heart of New York’s Financial District, Love joined Ian Woosnam, Meg Mallon, Lorena Ochoa and the late British journalist Henry Longhurst in the Hall’s Class of 2017.
“Really,” Love said Tuesday, “this is the most exclusive club in golf.”
Love grew up around the game, the son of a talented professional and teacher (Davis Jr.) who played in 16 major championships and was taken from him early, perishing in a 1988 airplane crash. Davis III, or Trip, as his dad would call him, always was filled with promise and potential, but the goals he set never were as lofty or as far away as the Hall of Fame, a place that honors 155 of the game’s greatest players and contributors.
“Devin Brouse, my college coach (at North Carolina), got everyone on the team to write down weekly goals, and monthly goals, and season goals, and career goals,” Love, 53, said Tuesday morning. “And so I wrote them down, but I wasn’t ever as good at it as Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus. I never wrote down that I wanted to be in the Hall of Fame. I just wanted to win golf tournaments.”
He did, winning 21 times on the PGA Tour, winning elsewhere around the globe, capturing World Cups, and playing in Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups. (He’s even a two-time Ryder Cup captain.) He won a major championship (1997 PGA), was a fixture inside the top 10 in earnings for the better part of two decades, and was a member of the PGA Tour Policy Board. The Hall of Fame, though, is bigger than any of that.
Meg Mallon didn’t know if she’d even win on the LPGA, let alone reach the stage she reached on Tuesday evening in New York. She earned a card to play the LPGA in 1987 and did not win until 1991. Once she did, she’d win a bunch. She won four times that season – including the LPGA Championship and U.S. Women’s Open, two of her four career majors – and would go on to collect 18 titles in her 23-season career.
“I hadn’t won much of anything,” Mallon said. “I’d won the Michigan Amateur, and maybe I’d won a mini-tour event. But really, I was raw as far as that went.
“When I won the first event of the year (in ’91), the Oldsmobile Classic, it was such a revelation that I could win on the LPGA. It brought me such confidence. The way I won it, too, I birdied the last two holes to beat a future Hall of Famer, Betsy King. Just to have that confidence to know you can pull off those shots … that was a big thing.”
Mallon, 54, brought a traveling party of 70 well-wishers to New York (“Hey, I’m Irish,” she said, smiling).
Ochoa, who Tuesday would become the first golfer from Mexico to be inducted into the WGHOF, beat that number by 10.
Ochoa walked away from golf and the LPGA in 2010 at the age of 28 to start a family, and accomplished so much in such a brief window of time. She won 27 tournaments (including two majors) and held the World No. 1 ranking for 158 consecutive weeks.
Ochoa, now 35 and the mother of three children, often is asked if she regrets retiring so young. She doesn’t. She believes she timed things absolutely perfectly.
“I feel very lucky that I was able to see the right time for me to stop playing,” Ochoa said. “I think I stopped at the perfect moment. I loved golf, I loved the media, I loved my friends. I think it was the perfect time to do it.
“I wouldn’t change myself for anybody. I’m so happy with my family, and I enjoy this second stage in my life.”
She stays involved in the game by helping to run an LPGA event in Mexico and by staying available to advise and encourage the young men and women pros and amateurs in Mexico who she helped to inspire.
“I’m really close friends with all of them,” Ochoa said. “They call me for advice. They have my support. Always.”
Woosnam, 59, a powerful player from Wales who stands only 5 feet, 4 inches, is best remembered for his victory in the 1991 Masters, but also played a pivotal role as part of Europe’s Big Five in turning around the continent’s fortunes in the Ryder Cup. He played on eight teams from 1983-97 and was a winning captain when Europe thumped the U.S. in Ireland in 2006. Woosnam amassed 47 worldwide victories and was World No. 1 for 50 weeks.
He grew up as the son of a farmer, and as a youth, was sure of one thing: He didn’t want to farm for a living.
“I had this dream. I wanted to be a professional golfer,” he said. “I wanted to either do that or be a soccer player. The same day, I got chosen to play in a match of golf and a match of soccer, and I decided to play golf. I thought, I could play longer, and that’s what I was going to do.”
Longhurst was an interesting man, spending parts of his life as a journalist, commentator and Member of Parliament in Westminster, England. He was a good player who initially contributed to the game as a writer – he had a running column in the Sunday Times of London for 22 years – but came to prominence as a revered voice of golf in the early days of television.
His oldest grandson, Jonathan Calver, who now lives in Australia, would spend many Sunday afternoons having lunch with his grandfather in England, and recalls his grandfather’s stories of the early broadcast days, when he would wander out to a distant green with a microphone, the device attached to what seemed to be a mile of cable behind him. He wanted to move around to different holes, but really couldn’t.
He drew great acclaim for his commentary on the famous Duel in the Sun between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson at the British Open in 1977. Longhurst died in 1978.
“He would never have imagined that golf grew to be so big,” Calver said.
He and his family joined Love, Mallon, Ochoa and Woosnam at a welcome dinner for the class on Monday night at One World Trade Center. Roughly two dozen Hall of Fame members attended, including such all-time standouts as Kathy Whitworth, Gary Player, Hale Irwin and Annika Sorenstam. At one point, all the Hall of Famers in attendance gathered for an impromptu picture. Love wasn’t yet in, so he decided to stay out. Going forward after Tuesday night’s induction, though, Love gets to be in all the pictures
And he realizes it is quite a club.
“Robin (Love, his wife) asked me, ‘Do they do this every year?’ and I told her no, it’s every other year now,” Davis Love III said. “But we’re going to Pebble Beach the next time (in 2019, during the U.S. Open) and it’s going to be fun.
“It’s the ultimate class reunion. And not everybody gets to go.”