Els leads class of 6 into Hall of Fame

PGA Hall of Fame golfer Ernie Els speaks to the media at the World Golf Hall of Fame 2011 Induction Ceremony on May 9, 2011 in St Augustine, Florida.

PGA Hall of Fame golfer Ernie Els speaks to the media at the World Golf Hall of Fame 2011 Induction Ceremony on May 9, 2011 in St Augustine, Florida.

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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – We love golf, that’s for sure.

We should love it even more because, on the same night, an 88-year-old man and a 41-year-old man were inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

It is a reflection of golf’s essence – the game of a lifetime – that 88-year-old Doug Ford and 41-year-old Ernie Els entered the Hall of Fame with equal distinction, though one was more than twice as old as the other.

Also inducted on Monday evening were four more individuals, two living and two deceased: 64-year-old Japanese star Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki, winner of more than 100 tournaments; 86-year-old George H.W. Bush, the globetrotting, golf-promoting former President of the United States; along with the late television golf producer Frank Chirkinian and the storied Jock Hutchison, who won the PGA Championship in 1920 and the British Open in 1921.

photo

Alex Miceli/Golfweek

Ernie Els was one of six inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday.

It could be argued that the Hall of Fame ceremony meant more to Ford than Els. Both Ford and the man who introduced him, former Masters champion Bob Goalby, were extremely emotional and overflowing with what might be labeled the Hall of Fame spirit.

It seemed that Ford, winner of the 1955 PGA Championship and 1957 Masters, had been waiting a lifetime for this honor. Overlooked year after year by those who vote on the PGA Tour ballot, Ford finally earned this distinction through the veterans category.

For Els, meanwhile, it was another honor in a career full of them. He sailed through the balloting. In accepting his place among golf’s giants, the three-time major champion was largely calm and subdued, which is his nature. He dutifully thanked members of his family, one by one, for their inspiration and support. This was admirable, considering that many Hall of Famers, regardless of their sport, neglect to do so.

Far be it from any observer to suggest that current players – those who believe they can still win major championships – should not be ushered into the World Golf Hall of Fame during their active careers.

Such induction may seem premature, and it may seem as if these golfers do not yet possess a full appreciation of the adoration bestowed upon them, but golf is a singular sport in which competitors can win majors in their 40s and careers can easily last for multiple decades.

Anyway, it was especially rewarding to witness the joy experienced by Ford as he entered the Hall of Fame. Well-deserved.

Dan Hicks of NBC Sports, who served as master of ceremonies for the evening, was articulate and skillful. He stayed out of the limelight, out of the way.

The same cannot be said for Jim Nantz of CBS Sports, who spoke far too much. Nantz has a habit of loading every sentence with sympathetic, soft-hearted content, which is fine in small doses. However, as he offered tributes to Chirkinian and Bush, he attracted too much attention to himself and his personal experiences.

Nantz even called for the Hall of Fame election of Ken Venturi, which is overdue but still was inappropriate for this occasion.

When Nantz related a story of playing golf with Bush and former President Bill Clinton, he mentioned the date, June 28, 2005, and called it “the first time they (Bush and Clinton) played golf together.”

Sorry, but this is not correct. In 1995, former presidents Bush, Clinton and Gerald Ford played golf with Bob Hope in the pro-am portion of the Bob Hope Desert Classic.

Bush, one of the world’s fastest golfers, left Clinton in his dust, quite literally. On one hole, Bush holed out while Clinton was still 150 yards back down the fairway.

“What in the world is he doing?” Bush wondered aloud as he sat on the ground behind the green and waited for Clinton to catch up.

Nantz is a golden-throated announcer who will earn his own Hall of Fame ticket one of these days. Good for him. But Monday’s performance was just a little too much.

No matter, because there is an excitement about any World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony, a sense of golf history, that thrills all who love golf.

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