Golf Hall of Fame Suffering Through Image Crisis

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Hall of Fame logo (75x86)The World Golf Hall of Fame remains a work in progress, much like the career of the man that just got elected: Vijay Singh.
 
He had all the credentials to be included among the best who ever played the game, with 25 career victories on the PGA Tour and three major championships.
 
'Wow, where can I start?' Singh said when he was introduced as the 105th member.
 
Then he showed that he's not finished.
 
The next day he shot 64. By the end of the week, Singh won the Houston Open to become the first repeat winner in its 60-year history, become only the second player to surpass $40 million in career earnings and close within three victories of Sam Snead's record of 17 tour victories after turning 40.
 
They can start the engraving at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla., but it would be best to etch only his name into granite. The 42-year-old Fijian might have a half-dozen more victories and another major when he is inducted. It doesn't seem right.
 
The Hall of Fame is supposed to be the cherry on top of an illustrious career, not a palate cleanser. It would be like Dan Marino going back to training camp with the Miami Dolphins, or Wade Boggs deciding to play one more year with the Boston Red Sox. But golf isn't like other sports.
 
'They don't retire,' said Jack Peter, chief operating officer of the World Golf Hall of Fame. 'The age and all the criteria on the ballot are things we review continuously. There's no right answer. It's all very subjective. Is 40 the right age? Is 50 the right age?'
 
Nick Faldo was elected on the International ballot in 1998 at age 40, two years after he won his sixth major. Singh was the youngest player elected from the PGA Tour ballot, and he won't even be the youngest player at the induction ceremony on Nov. 14. Karrie Webb, who earned her way in through the LPGA points system, will be 30.
 
Annika Sorenstam was inducted two years ago when she was 33. She won eight times the next year, including her seventh major, and has won all three tournaments she has played this season, including major No. 8.
 
Is it fair to make Webb wait 20 years to get inducted?
 
'There's a school of thought that says it's a good thing for Vijay Singh and Annika Sorenstam to carry the Hall of Fame mantra while competing at such a high level,' Peter said. 'It's not a perfect science.'
 
Still, the World Golf Hall of Fame has some imperfections. Officials are so desperate to increase membership in the Hall of Fame that they have watered down the standards twice in the last four years.
 
When the new Hall of Fame opened in 1998, candidates had to receive at least 75 percent of the vote. But after no one from the PGA Tour was elected in 2000, the criteria was lowered to 65 percent, paving the way for the late Payne Stewart to get elected in 2001, Ben Crenshaw and Tony Jacklin a year later.
 
Then, it added a clause in 2003 that if no one gets 65 percent, it will take the highest vote-getter provided he is on at least 50 percent of the ballot. Isao Aoki got in last year under that technicality, and Singh made it this year when he was named on only 56 percent of the ballots.
 
'When there are 20 names on the ballot, what could happen is that votes get spread out, and inherently it drops all the percentages across the board,' Peter said. 'I don't think an individual should be penalized for that.'
 
It hasn't seemed to hurt baseball, which had 27 names on the last year's ballot. Boggs and Ryne Sandberg each got at least 75 percent of the vote.
 
Then again, how Singh only got 56 percent is a mystery. Along with the 25 tour trophies, Singh had the No. 1 ranking, two money titles, a Vardon Trophy and PGA Tour player of the year. Neither Crenshaw nor Stewart had those credentials, yet each got over 65 percent.
 
It could be that voters simply weren't ready to put Singh into the Hall of Fame with his career in full flight. Perhaps their focus was on those who no longer play at the highest level (Larry Nelson and Curtis Strange) or are no longer alive (Henry Picard, Craig Wood, Denny Shute).
 
'It's a subjective process,' Peter said. 'I don't know how or why people vote the way they do.'
 
The hard part is figuring out who votes.
 
When the Hall of Fame was at Pinehurst, a committee came up with a list of candidates and submitted them to a vote of the Golf Writers Association of America, and 75 percent of the vote was required for election. Clean and simple.
 
Ballots now go to Hall of Fame members, golf writers, the board of the PGA and Champions tours, and executives of groups that signed up to be on the Hall of Fame advisory board, which includes the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the American Junior Golf Association and the Golf Course Builders Association of America.
 
Oh, and a representative from Shell Oil gets a vote because it sponsors the Hall of Fame.
 
What further hurts the credibility is that the Hall of Fame won't release vote totals, only percentages. That's the same tactic the PGA Tour uses when announcing its player of the year; it doesn't release votes, only who won.
 
Ultimately, the greatest challenge facing the World Golf Hall of Fame is the perception that it's under the thumb of the PGA Tour. And perhaps that's why some see it more as a marketing tool than a shrine.
 
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