The World Golf Hall of Fame unlocks its doors to Lorena Ochoa Tuesday night in its induction ceremony in New York City.
Here’s hoping the doors to the LPGA Hall of Fame will open to her soon after, because she deserves to be in both.
The World Golf Hall of Fame, which is separate from the LPGA, restructured its criteria three years ago, creating a “female competitor category,” which opened the door to more players like Ochoa and Meg Mallon, who haven’t met the LPGA Hall of Fame’s more stringent eligibility requirements. Laura Davies also was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame since the restructuring, even though she falls short of LPGA Hall of Fame eligibility.
We’re likely going to see a lot of women make it into the World Golf Hall of Fame before another makes it into the LPGA Hall of Fame. The LPGA’s Hall is the toughest to gain entry in all of mainstream sports, and it’s getting tougher with each passing year, with the growing international reach of the tour and the strengthening depth.
In the 68-year history of the LPGA, only 25 players have earned induction. Last season, Inbee Park became the first player in almost a decade to qualify.
There’s something especially unfair about Ochoa being left out, because of the neglected nature of the LPGA Hall of Fame’s operation.
Ochoa, 35, might already be enshrined in the LPGA Hall of Fame if its veteran’s committee had not inexplicably lapsed into dormancy due to inattention.
Hall of Famer Beth Daniel is working to address the neglect, though that won’t necessarily assure Ochoa’s enshrinement. Daniel is overseeing a 10-member panel that has spent more than a year in a massive review of the LPGA’s Hall of Fame requirements. The panel is evaluating everything from the strict points-based qualifying standard to the veteran’s committee that was set up to consider worthy exceptions to the rules.
Ochoa, 35, is a curious case, because in anyone’s book her achievements should make her one of the LPGA’s all-time greats. She falls short of LPGA Hall of Fame eligibility in one requirement, the 10-year membership rule.
Ochoa reigned as Rolex world No. 1 for 158 consecutive weeks, longer than any player since the Rolex rankings were introduced in 2006. She won 27 LPGA titles, two of them major championships. She was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year four consecutive years (2006-09). Kathy Whitworth and Annika Sorenstam are the only other players to do that since the award was established 51 years ago. Sorenstam won it five times in a row. Ochoa also matched Whitworth by winning the Vare Trophy four consecutive years. The great Mickey Wright is the only player who has won it more consecutive years (1960-64).
Ochoa compiled 37 Hall of Fame points, 10 more than required for induction. The LPGA awards one point for a victory, two for a major, and one point each for a Player of the Year Award or Vare Trophy.
Ochoa’s problem is that she was only an active LPGA member for seven full seasons, falling short of the 10 required for LPGA Hall of Fame eligibility. She announced her retirement early into her eighth season, back in 2010. If she had played full time through 2012, she would have been inducted in 2013.
Still, even without 10 years of membership, Ochoa should have become eligible for veteran’s committee consideration in 2016. The veteran’s committee was set up with the authority to review exceptions, but the committee went 10 years without meeting before Daniel was appointed to lead the panel’s review.
Ochoa’s and Mallon’s inductions Tuesday should be celebrated, not just for what they achieved, but for who they are as two of the great ambassadors of the women’s games. Mallon won 18 times, with four major championships.
The victory totals matter in the measure of greatness, but Tuesday’s induction raises the old question of whether fame should be judged solely by numbers.
While the World Golf Hall of Fame was too subjective for too long, the LPGA Hall of Fame seems too coldly objective. Ochoa is a shining example of that.