Hall of Fame Welcomes Sifford

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Im watching Franco Harris on a morning sports show and hes talking about the Immaculate Reception. That was 32 years ago!

For our greatest athletes, glorys cash register is always open.

As far as I know, plumbers dont have a Hall of Fame.

The worlds great plungers dont stand before thousands in yellow sport coats and recall the time when Joe Bunyon miraculously retrieved Elizabeth Taylors five carat diamond which slid down a drain pipe.

Maybe you get a watch or clock at the end of a fine career, but not a statue thats good for a thousand years.

Tom Kite laughed at the thought, and then looked up from a dwindling pile of balls he was using to paint a small circle around a flag 150 yards away.

Youre right, he said. Its pretty special.

As a society, we value touchdowns and homeruns and major championships more than we do plumbing acumen, though there are those emergencies when wed all take the plumber over the playoffs without hesitation.

The point is who among us is immortalized in bronze? Presidents and athletes.

Charlie Siffords bust, including the ubiquitous cigar, is no harder than the man himself.

He had to be for all those times they told him to eat in the locker room or that he couldnt stay at a particular hotel or couldnt play in a tournament he might have won.

The basic backbone of professional golf is stunningly simple. No matter your size, your religious beliefs or the color of your skin, what counts at days end is the score on your card. Whatd you shoot?

Sadly, up until 1961 when the door finally swung open for Sifford in Greensboro, that wasnt the case.

I never will understand why they didnt want the black man to play golf, Charlie once said. Nobody ever loved the game more than me.

He started as a caddy at Carolina Country Club for 60 cents a round and 36 holes a day. Hed give a dollar to his mom and then by cigars with the rest. Charlie started smoking stogies at 13, about the same time he started shooting par.

Not until he was in his late 30s did he get a chance to play against the very best. He won Hartford at 45 and then L.A. two years later.

Might he have won the Masters? Well never know. But Charlie Coody did. Tommy Aaron did. Were they appreciably better than Charlie? Doubtful.

None of the days big stars stood up for Charlie. The only one who voted for me, remembers Charlie of his bid to play Augusta National, was Art Wall.

Said Frank Beard, We could have spoken outbutit was a different era. Lousy excuse, I know, but we saw ourselves simply as golfers.

At 82, Charlie still makes a lively move on the ball. While our cameras were rolling he coolly knocked in a 15 footer for par on the final hole at The Slammer and The Squire course at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine.

Any lingering and justifiable bitterness seems to have faded. Im happy to be going into The Hall alongside Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino and Chi Chi Rodriguez, he says, the cigar continuing its staccato dance. Theyre all my friends.

Charlie Siffords journey is complete. With his enshrinement, were reminded that we were not always as great as the game hes loved for so long. Were reminded of what a difference one man with will can make.
 
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