JERSEY CITY, N.J. – A man gets accustomed to hearing that things are out of his reach when he stands just 5-feet, 4½ inches or when he’s the blue-collar son of a Welsh dairy farmer with dreams of making it in a black-tie world.
Ian Woosnam is both of those things, but Tuesday night — four decades after he took to the road chasing the European Tour in a beat-up VW camper van stocked with a frugal diet of baked beans — he arrives at a berth in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
It’s been a long, strange journey for the 59-year-old former Masters champion, including an unseemly delay before he received the call from the Hall.
“I always had a dream. I didn’t think about the Hall of Fame, but I had the dream of being the best player in the world and winning majors,” Woosnam said. “”To be here right now is that dream come true.”
“The way I played golf was one round would be 85 and the next one was 65. But I had a special belief in myself, that if I can do it once I can do it again. I don’t know why I’ve become what I am. Maybe I just didn’t want to be a farmer and go back to milking them cows. That made me more determined. It took me five years to even make a living.”
The diminutive Welshman turned professional in 1976 and piloted his camper van to qualifying events all over Europe. He once drove three days from Nairn in northern Scotland to Milan, 1,400 miles away, only to break down near his destination. He ended up getting a ride from a gas station attendant—on the handlebars of his bicycle.
“It was the best time of my life,” he says, laughing hard at the memory.
Woosnam amassed 28 official European Tour wins and more than 50 worldwide. He ascended to World No. 1 on Monday of Masters week in 1991 and six days later donned the green jacket for his lone major title. He was a member of eight Ryder Cup teams (oddly, never winning a singles match) and captained Europe to a romp over the USA in 2006. He memorably described the win as “the greatest week in history,” which he concluded with champagne streaming from his nose on live television during the victory celebrations.
It was a very ‘Woosie’ moment from a no-frills man whose idea of a sports psychologist was the hotel bartender. He has been married to his wife Glendryth for 34 years and splits his time between Jersey in the Channel Islands and Barbados. He still plays a full schedule (27 events last year) and won on the PGA Tour Champions in 2015.
His is an induction considered long overdue by many, most notably Woosnam himself. He is the last of Europe’s ‘Big 5’ to get in. Two were inducted in the last century (Nick Faldo in 1998 and Seve Ballesteros the next year), followed by Bernhard Langer in 2002 and Sandy Lyle a decade later. Woosnam waited silently. Until 2014, when his name didn’t even make the short-list ballot. “After seeing the results of the World Golf Hall of Fame, I think it’s time to say goodbye to golf and retire,” he Tweeted at the time.
So does that long wait still sting?
“What do you think?” he says through a thin smile. “Maybe because I’m not vocal and out there all the time in people’s faces. Maybe it’s because the last 10 years or so I just wandered away. I think that’s a reason. If you’re out there in the public eye then people can use you better for institutions like the Hall of Fame.”
Asked about fellow Hall of Famers who got in earlier and with much less impressive resumes, he shakes his head and chuckles. “I didn’t say that.”
Woosnam will be enshrined in a ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street, where he will be introduced by another man of small stature but huge accomplishment: Gary Player.
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog,’ Player said. “Ian Woosnam was the longest hitter I ever saw, pound for pound. For me, when you see people do well coming from a poor background with many difficulties along their path to success, it’s a great example for everyone to follow.”
The Class of ’17 also includes Davis Love III, Lorena Ochoa, Meg Mallon and the late British writer Henry Longhurst.
The ceremony caps a remarkable career that would have seemed unlikely to the teenager who set out in his van 40 years ago.
“There’s not much left now and I just want to enjoy it,” Woosnam says, before quickly admitting that he still has one goal left. “I’ve got my next battle and that’s to cure my putting. It keeps me playing every single day because I want to beat it.”