Memories abound from Hall of Fame inductees

By Randall MellNovember 3, 2009, 4:42 am
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Jose Maria Olazabal wandered through the World Golf Hall of Fame exhibits in awe of where his life has led him.

In a wing for the newest inductees, in his first trip to the facility, he found a wall celebrating his achievements.

This was Sunday, a day before he would join the Class of 2009 in the induction ceremony, but he was moved to see he was already a part of the history that’s celebrated here.
Lanny Wadkins
Lanny Wadkins chats with the media prior to his Hall of Fame induction. (Getty Images)
Olazabal, 43, found his story with photos and artifacts documenting his achievements as well as those of his fellow inductees: Lanny Wadkins, Christy O’Connor and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

There’s a grainy, old black-and-white photo here that shows a 5-year-old Olazabal taking one of his first swings growing up in Spain. He’s playing cross-handed. The photo is here with the complete set of MacGregor irons Olazabal used to win the Masters in 1999 and the TaylorMade metal woods he used to win the Masters in ’94.

“I gripped the club left-handed even though I was hitting right-handed,” Olazabal told reporters in a news conference before Monday’s ceremony. “As soon as coaches turned their backs on me, I was back to hitting left-handed.”

The memories Olazabal shared with fellow inductees and their family and friends moved him in powerful ways.

Olazabal told Arnold Palmer Monday at the Hall of Fame luncheon, six hours before the induction ceremony, that the experience had already made him cry.

“I spent a couple hours yesterday just looking at all the history,” Olazabal said. “It’s a very special place, and it’s a privilege and great honor to be a part of this.”

There was sure to be more emotion at the ceremony with Seve Ballesteros scheduled to introduce Olazabal in a recorded message. Ballesteros, a fellow Spaniard and five-time major championship winner, was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor a year ago. He’s fighting back after four surgeries to remove the tumor. Ballesteros invited Olazabal to play with him in a charity match at his home club in Pedrena when Olazabal was only 15. They immediately forged a bond that would lead to their formidable pairings together on the European Ryder Cup teams. They were 11-2-2 as partners.

“Something special happened that day,” Olazabal said. “It's very hard for me to say, but you can call it chemistry, call it whatever you want, but it was the base of a great relationship through the years, and it showed at the Ryder Cup. When I had the chance to come over here to the States and play a little bit more here, we spent a lot of time together, practicing, working together on the driving range, out on the chipping green. I learned a lot, especially around the greens, from him. I think that was quite important.”

Like Ballesteros, Olazabal would develop a reputation as a short-game wizard.

“Seve showed me how important it was not to give up at any point or any stage of the match or the round,” Olazabal said. “He always had that fighting spirit. He never gave up, and I learned a lot from that. I think that has been very helpful in my career, at several points in my career, where things are not going your way. You think, `Wow, is it worth all the work that I'm putting in?’ And then you look at a guy like him, and I say, `Well, there is no shortcut here, so you'd better keep on working hard.’”

Olazabal is the winner of 21 European Tour titles, four PGA Tour titles. He played on seven Ryder Cup teams, but it’s the relationships he forged growing up in golf that have stayed with him. That was the theme in the afternoon interviews before the induction ceremony. Wadkins, 59, shared special moments in the game with Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and family. Palmer also visited to share his memories of Eisenhower, who died 40 years ago but was selected to the Hall of Fame via the Lifetime Achievement Category.

Wadkins’ display included the custom-made MacGregor driver he used to win the 1977 PGA Championship and a number of trophies and other artifacts, but it also includes a $4 check that Hogan wrote him on June 12, 1981. Wadkins never cashed it. The letter from Hogan that came with the check also is on display.

“Dear Lanny,” the letter begins. “Enclosed is my check for $4 for your skins yesterday. With all the confusion of our intruder, I simply forgot this. I can’t imagine this fellow doing that. It was my first experience of this kind, and I really didn’t know how to handle this situation, except to just quit.”

Wadkins, who won ’70 U.S. Amateur and 21 PGA Tour events, including the ’77 PGA and ’79 Players Championship, explained that he received the check as payment from Hogan for a friendly money game at Shady Oaks, Hogan’s club in Fort Worth , Texas .

“We got on about the 14th, 15th hole at Shady Oaks, and a guy rides up in a cart, and he's got shorts on and he's got a beard,” Wadkins said. “That's probably two of Hogan's least favorite things on a golf course. The guy doesn't ask anything, he says, `I'm going to join you guys the rest of the way in.’ Didn't even ask. Now, would you ride up to Ben Hogan and say, `Hey, I'm playing with you today?’  That didn't fly with Ben. He looked at me and said, `Are you ready to go?’ I said, `I'm with you, Ben.’ We drove off and left him sitting there. The frustration, he was so embarrassed, because this happened at his club, Shady Oaks, where he was a member, and thus the letter apologizing for the intruder. I was two skins up at the time. So I got the check for $4. His secretary's name was Clara Bell. She called me every month for the next six months wanting me to cash Mr. Hogan's check so she could balance his account. I said, `Clara Bell, there's no chance I'm cashing that check, ever.’’’

Palmer praised Eisenhower for helping to popularize the game as the 34th President of the United States, but Palmer spoke mostly of the friendship they forged. It’s been reported that about 3.2 million Americans played golf when Eisenhower took office in 1953 and double that played when he left office eight years later.

Palmer said Eisenhower typically shot in the mid-80s but probably never broke 80 in his life. Still, Palmer said Eisenhower was passionate about the game, something that really hit Palmer after they played a charity exhibition at Merion one year. Eisenhower wanted a tip from Palmer before the round.

“I said, `Well, Mr. President, if you kept your right elbow in a little closer to your side, I think you could get a little more power into your shots,’ never thinking what was going to happen,” Palmer said. “As you probably remember, if you saw any of the military people, they always wore their belt [buckles] on their right side. He kept [his elbow] so close that when we finished practicing and playing, his elbow was all bloody from keeping that elbow in close. That was how intent he was on playing the game of golf.”

O’Connor, 84, the accomplished Irishman, wasn’t able to make the pre-induction news conferences, but his presence was strong in the Hall of Fame, where his display included the 1962 Harry Vardon Trophy, given to the winner of the European Tour Order of Merit. O’Connor is the only Irishman to win it twice. O’Connor won 24 European Tour titles and made 10 Ryder Cup appearances.
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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.