Jeff Rude’s “I Hate To Be Rude” column usually appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesdays.
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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – As ceremonial gatherings go, this one was worthy of a 50-buck cover. But then anyone should have seen the laughter looming, for the World Golf Hall of Fame induction class of 2012 featured two octogenarian humorists who have entertained audiences for more than a half century.
As one Hall official said after Monday night’s proceedings, “We should induct Peter Alliss and Dan Jenkins every year.” Or, at the least, make them part of the annual show to guarantee spewing of wit and wisdom.
Each is 82 years old and has been around the pro game since the early 1950s. Their gravitas and creativity allow them to speak freely, to push envelopes, to free-wheel, all in an understated manner. And they – The Voice and His Ownself – didn’t disappoint – Jenkins speaking largely in informal punch lines, Alliss in long, flowing, clever yarns. The accents were as varied as the styles – one from Texas, the other from England.
Jenkins: “The two biggest changes for me is I used to park at the clubhouse (at major championships), and the players used to talk to me.”
Alliss: “Today’s keyhole journalism, I think, is one of the sad things not only about sport but about life, that somebody can be a promising young person – boy, girl, whatever – and the editor in today’s society wants to find out if they ever did anything naughty when they were young. Did they ever steal something from Woolworth’s, a packet of sweeties, or did they ever have a boy-boy relationship when they were at college or girl-girl relationship, and have you got any photos?”
They offered those gems and more at the pre-induction news conference, then saved their best for the big evening stage.
As you may have heard about or seen by now, Alliss stole the show by exiting stage left, John Wayne-style, after ending his speech with a hilarious one-finger salute. It punctuated a tale about one of his former school teachers and left this observer thinking that perhaps no one honored at any sporting banquet ever had such a commanding day.
Son of an accomplished golf professional, Alliss has achieved throughout his life with seeming ease – as a golfer who won 23 tournaments worldwide in the 1950s and ’60s and played on eight Ryder Cup teams; as the unmatched television commentator who has broadcast 50 consecutive Open Championships, and as author of more than 20 golf books.
Yet the showstopper in his address focused on his former school headmistress, Violet Weymouth, a short Welsh woman who routinely had a cigarette dangling from her lips and had a way of striking fear.
He recalled that the last report Mrs. Weymouth sent home to his parents suggested the young Alliss was loath to use his brain and seemed interested in only golf and a particular girl who, in his words, helped teach him the “ways of the world.” The report, he recalled, concluded with, “I fear for his future.”
With all that in mind, Alliss then concluded his speech thusly:
“So mom and dad died a long, long time ago, and if there is such a thing as heaven and if people do look down, well, mom, dad, here we are. Look at this lot. Look where I’ve been, look what I’ve done. Never worked very hard at it. But it’s all fallen into place. Lovely family, lovely wife, looks after me, shouts a bit occasionally. But they are remarkable. They put up with all my nonsense, and I love them dearly.
“And Mrs. Weymouth, if you’re there …”
And with that, he held up a middle finger for what seemed like several seconds and then walked off to loud applause.
The droll Englishman, though, didn’t confine his compelling takes to that ballroom. That afternoon, in a question-answer session, he entertained while going on about various topics, most notably Tiger Woods and Seve Ballesteros.
Alliss, like many others, is blown away by the decline of Woods and by the fact Woods often seems lost in instructional mechanics.
“His golfing brain,” Alliss said, “for some reason or other is completely addled. …
“He was Gulliver in a land of Lilliputians. He dominated everyone. He frightened everybody. Then he gets into this trouble with the ladies and seemingly he loses it, and then he has to start again.
“I’m not saying I’m a great teaching guru, (but) if he couldn’t be put right in an hour, I’d go home and stick my head in a bucket of ice water, because to me it’s so simple. You stand and you swing.”
Alliss said he was taken aback when he and Arnold Palmer watched Woods practice on the range at last year’s Masters. Woods, arguably the most dominant golfer off all time, was getting a chipping lesson.
“Arnold, are we seeing (things)?” Alliss said to Palmer. “Are we going (mad)?”
To Alliss’ way of thinking, “it’s like Pavarotti saying I’m fed up being a tenor. I think I’m going to sing as a baritone. That’s not a criticism; it’s an opinion. But that’s why (Woods is) fuddled and befuddled.”
Earlier, Alliss went on about how some people find it easy spending other people’s money but have a difficult time tending after their own.
Unless you are careful like, say, the late Ballesteros.
“He was a dear friend of mine, but he was the tightest duck-assed fellow I ever knew in my life,” Alliss said. “He had millions. He had two cars in his garage. He had a Lamborghini and a Ferrari, and I think they both had about 3,000 miles on the clock. And a Range Rover. He said, ‘They use too much petrol. I can’t afford that petrol.’
“And he was the 840th richest person in the world, or whatever it was at that time.”
Somewhere, Peter Alliss is probably still talking, carrying on in paragraphs, perhaps with a Hall of Fame glow. And perhaps somewhere a stung Mrs. Weymouth realizes she was wrong.