2005: Column - Singh deserves Hall, but process still curious

Not sure of much of anything, but there are some things you just know. The IRS sticks out its hand and tongue every spring. Tiger Woods gets stupid hot before network TV negotiations. Airport security requires a boarding pass be shown five times in about 20 feet. And the Masters will put pimento cheese sandwiches in green wrappers and adults will buy them.

Oh, yes, one other thing: When I die and face those who decide which side of the border to send me, I do not want my fate riding on the opinion of the World Golf Hall of Fame voting body. I mean, if that happened, I’d just die on the spot if I weren’t already dead.

You could stagger home at 4 a.m. and your wife wouldn’t be a harsher critic than those who elect PGA Tour players into the Hall. Facing a crowd this tough, Rodney Dangerfield never gets out of Jersey.

Take this year. Among the eligibles was a man who had won 24 Tour titles (and since added two more), nine tournaments in one year, three majors and consecutive money titles. What happens? He receives less than the 65 percent normally required.

If those aren’t Hall credentials, then we’d better start removing some busts from the museum.

Mr. Vijay Singh, though, was the only fortunate one on the Tour ballot. He will be enshrined in St. Augustine, which doesn’t yet have that Cooperstown cache, because he was the leading vote-getter (56 percent) among those who received more than half the vote.

When 44 percent don’t vote for someone with Singh’s record, you know it is harder to get into the Hall than it is to get out of the Book of the Month club.

I suspect many didn’t vote for Singh because he’s only 42 years old, even though the minimum eligible age is 40. And some probably didn’t check his name because he hasn’t quite been as media friendly as Arnold Palmer or, for that matter, a Hogan-Faldo hybrid.

That calls two things into light.

One, if deserving active players in their early 40s are going to get slighted on age discrimination, then let’s raise the minimum to 45 or 50.

Second, the Hall election process for Tour players smacks of more of a popularity contest than the vote for class officers at a junior high school. Only thing different is the absence of acne.

How else does one explain tough guys Lanny Wadkins, Hubert Green and Curtis Strange not getting more support? Not to mention, to a lesser extent, overachiever Larry Nelson (10 victories, including three majors) or underachiever Davis Love III (18 titles, one major, 26 seconds).

The Hall released voting information on only four others after Singh. Nelson was second at 55 percent, followed by Strange (50) and two late legends from decades ago, Henry Picard (49) and Craig Wood (41). If nothing else, release of a longer list could help the process self-correct its lacking self. How can one accurately analyze what’s wrong if we can’t see all the data?

What’s clearly wrong is that Strange, Wadkins and Green (all of whom got my vote) aren’t in the Hall. Based on this year’s results, Nos. 2 and 3, Nelson and Strange, should inch up and get in soon. But Wadkins, a 21-time winner, and Green, with 19 victories, somehow aren’t even on the radar. Each received less than 40 percent of the vote.

Strange, Wadkins and Green have a few things in common. Seventeen to 21 victories. Tenacity. Sharp tongues. A stare that said, “Don’t even get close to me,” after a 73 or higher. And somehow not enough votes.

If Wadkins and Strange were as candid in their TV analyst jobs as they were as players, offended pros would have lined up to climb the 18th tower with fists balled and torches lit. Those two and Green, back in the day, led the Tour in the category titled, “Needles, sharp.”

“All three of us basically had the same personality,” Wadkins said. “We didn’t kiss anyone’s butt and didn’t sugarcoat anything.”

He couldn’t be more right. The vote unfortunately doesn’t reflect their accomplishments. You look at the voting results and wonder, “How many people did they tick off?” You ask, “Doesn’t baseball induct its hard guys?”

Strange won 17 Tour titles, including consecutive U.S. Opens, over 11 years. He won three money titles in four years. He was the best in the game for a while. That’s Sandy Koufax-Gale Sayers stuff. That’s Hall material.

Wadkins is the only eligible post-WWII player with at least 20 victories not in. Since when did victories become so cheap? I mean, Chris DiMarco is No. 8 in the world with three victories and Tom Lehman is Ryder Cup captain with five. Wadkins wins 21 times in the post-Vietnam era and can’t sniff the Hall? Can’t even sniff the top five? Are we serious?

Wadkins won more PGA Tour titles than such inducted contemporaries as Greg Norman, Hale Irwin, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Nick Price and Payne Stewart. Won a PGA and a U.S. Amateur. Had one of the best Ryder Cup records ever. Had 57 top-3 finishes – more than Strange and almost twice as many as Nelson. And was the guy everyone wanted as a partner in Tuesday money games.

Hubert Green, same thing. The Doberman won a U.S. Open under a death threat. Won a PGA and almost a Masters. Won three in a row in 1976. Won 16 of his 19 titles in the 1970s – only two fewer than Tom Watson. Best hands this side of Hogan. Sadly, people have forgotten how good he was.

Sad to say, more than half of the 250 or so voters are golf writers. The more than 50 living Hall of Famers are the only players among the voters. Since the current setup began in 1996, only about 80 percent of the ballots have been returned annually.

“The fact questions are being raised is healthy for the process,” said Hall chief operating officer Jack Peter. “It’s very subjective. It’s not a perfect science. We’re just getting to the point where it’s being criticized and poked. This will help let the process work.”

One should hope so. Make that at least three.

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