Inductees Share Common Bond

By Brian HewittNovember 17, 2004, 5:00 pm
World Golf Hall of FameWe celebrate the newest World Golf Hall of Fame inductees for their diversity: Marlene Stewart Streit, the first Canadian in the Hall; Charlie Sifford, the first African-American; Isao Aoki, the first Japanese man and Tom Kite, the first player on the PGA Tour to win six million dollars in career earnings.
 
But actually there is a common denominator among all four. It is persistency. Fact is, its hard to find a great player that wasnt persistent.
 
Streit, who turned 70 in March, won national championships in six different decades.
 
Sifford had to wait until he was well past his prime before he was allowed to play on the PGA Tour.
 
Aoki, a stranger in a strange land, never took up residency in the States. As Greg Norman, his presenter at the induction ceremony pointed out, Aoki and his wife had to pack a lot of bags every time they traveled to the Occident.
 
Kite worked like a mule on his game but never played or choked like a dog. And he was organized. Christy Kite, Toms wife, told Sports Illustrated, Tom likes to say, If its not on my calendar, it doesnt exist. And he means it.
 
Commissioner Tim Finchem reminded everybody at Monday nights gala that Kite has written a personal note of thanks to his Pro-Am partners, without fail, for more than 30 years. Thats persistence, too.
 
During Siffords partially rambling but wholly moving acceptance speech, he talked about Norman and Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. I never was a player like they were, he said wistfully.
 
With all due respect to Nicklaus, Palmer and Norman, they were never a player like Charlie Sifford from the standpoint of courage in the face of racism. Black players followed in his footsteps, but no one but Charlie ever walked in Siffords golf shoes.
 
Marlene Streit was barely five feet tall and didnt hit her driver much past 200 yards. But she sensed distances. Yardage books, to her, were a distraction. Bob Toski, the great teacher and something of a bantam himself, once called Streit, the best small golfer in the game.
 
Aoki holed that famous wedge on the 72nd hole of the 1983 Hawaiian Open to beat a stunned Jack Renner by a shot. It was a magical moment, almost as magical as the fact that Renner returned in 1984 to win the same tournament.
 
Aoki never mastered English but he was Japans poet laureate of the international language of putting. His idiosyncratic toe-in-the-air style with the flat stick is still a marvel to behold.
 
I asked Kite, late Monday evening, if Harvey Penick, his instructor and himself a Hall of Fame member, had been there, what he would have said.
 
Harvey was here in spirit, Kite corrected, I just wish I would have had the chance to give him a big hug.
 
Maybe somewhere, Penick and Ouimet and Vare and Travis and Vardon and all the others in golfs pantheon who have moved on from this world, are hugging each other.
 
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