Memories abound from Hall of Fame inductees


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.