A much slower process was his election to the World Golf Hall of Fame.
After spending much of the decade watching other players get inducted with fewer PGA Tour victories, Wadkins was elected on the PGA Tour ballot with 61 percent of the vote.
Its a huge honor, Wadkins said Thursday from Savannah, Ga., where he is playing a Champions Tour event. Even starting out on tour, I never envisioned this day happening. I came out playing not to win money, but to win golf tournaments. This is a special day.
Wadkins will be inducted Nov. 2 at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla.
He was the only player elected from the PGA Tour ballot, which requires 65 percent of the vote from Hall of Famers, media and golf executives. Wadkins got in under a provision that if no one receives the minimum vote, the player with the highest percentage (provided it is over 50 percent) gets elected.
It was the first time since Vijay Singh in 2005 (58 percent) that a PGA Tour player was elected through that stipulation.
Golfweek magazine reported that two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal has been elected on the International ballot, although that announcement has not been made.
Wadkins attributes his election in large part to longevity, noting that he won in three decades and qualified for eight Ryder Cup teams, an American record he shares with Billy Casper and Raymond Floyd.
But he also was renowned for his fearless play, and if there was one club that stands out in his bag, it was the wedge.
For all his victories, starting with the 1972 Sahara Invitational and ending with the 1992 Greater Hartford Open, Wadkins said his greatest moment on the golf course came in the 1983 Ryder Cup at PGA National.
He was playing Jose Maria Canizares in the second-to-last match, trailing by one and needing to earn a halve to give the Americans an outright victory over Europe. Wadkins hit a wedge from 72 yards out to inside a foot to win the hole.
The coolest thing I ever did, he said.
His signature victory came at Pebble Beach in the 1977 PGA Championship, where Wadkins became the first player to win a major in a sudden-death playoff. He started the final round six shots behind Gene Littler and made up ground with a pair of eagles on the front nine. Wadkins did not make a birdie until the 18th hole, but it was a big one.
Behind the 18th green is the big scoreboard, Wadkins recalled. I was 5 under and had a 92-yard wedge shot to the 18th. They changed Littler from 7 (under) to 6. My eyes got as big as saucers.
He hit the wedge to a foot for a birdie, and got into the playoff when Littler closed with pars and Jack Nicklaus failed to make a 15-foot birdie putt on the last hole.
Wadkins made a 15-foot putt to stay alive on the first extra hole, then won with a 6-foot par on the third extra hole.
He had six other top 3s in the majors, although his only close call came in 1987 when he lost in a playoff to Larry Nelson. Wadkins was the PGA Tour player of the year in 1985, when he won three times, but he never won a money title or a Vardon Trophy.
Among other players from his generation previously inducted were Nelson (10 victories, three majors), Curtis Strange (17 victories, two majors), Ben Crenshaw (19 victories, two majors) and Hubert Green (19 victories, two majors).
Wadkins set himself apart with his play in the Ryder Cup, a format that fit his personality.
He won the first seven matches he played, and while the 21 1/2 points he earned over two decades is not a U.S. record, he built his mark as continental Europe joined the Ryder Cup and the matches became far more competitive. He was captain in 1995 at Oak Hill.
Wadkins also played on the Walker Cup team twice and won the 1970 U.S. Amateur.
I love representing my country. Thats the thing I enjoyed as much as anything, Wadkins said. I think I was a good teammate. I loved competing, fighting for wins. I was more feisty and temperamental that I should have been, but we all do things our own way.