ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Dressed up in a drastically revamped selection process and a historic new venue, Monday’s induction ceremony for the World Golf Hall of Fame class of 2015 was almost perfect.
Of all the legends assembled at iconic Younger Hall in St. Andrews the only missing element was probably the most important.
Laura Davies – who along with Mark O’Meara, David Graham and the late A.W. Tillinghast comprised the class of 2015 – was unable to attend the ceremony because her flight was delayed from London after she tied for 47th on Sunday at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Davies watched the induction from her car on the way to St. Andrews and arrived in time to attend the reception, a wildly curious and unfortunate turn of events considering that both LPGA commissioner Mike Whan and USGA executive director Mike Davis somehow managed to find their way from Lancaster, Pa., site of last week’s Women’s Open, to the Home of Golf.
“Today I'm deeply embarrassed to be a member [of the Hall of Fame]. More effort should have been made to ensure [Davies] made it to her own induction,” Karrie Webb tweeted.
But in a pre-taped acceptance speech, Davies seemed to set the tone for the moment, “I liked to be the center of attention on the course, not off it,” she said.
Former LPGA commissioner Charlie Meacham introduced Davies and also accepted her Hall of Fame trophy, adding a measure of levity to what was otherwise an awkward situation.
“I’ve had a recurring dream that one day I’d be in the Hall of Fame and I’d wake up and think, ‘Good God, Charlie. The only way you’ll ever get in is if you steal the trophy,” said Meacham, who then proceeded to collect Davies’ trophy and exit the stage.
Yet while Davies’ absence was certainly noticed, it didn’t sour what was otherwise a solid re-opening for the World Golf Hall of Fame after the organization’s most dramatic overhaul since moving to St. Augustine, Fla.
In 2014, officials announced a revamped selection process with the creation of a 16-member committee and moved to a biennial induction schedule.
The Hall also announced it was taking its show on the road, rotating the induction ceremonies around the globe, starting with this week’s event in St. Andrews to correspond with the Open Championship.
“Having the induction here is an indication of the evolution of the Hall of Fame,” said Jack Peter, the Hall’s chief operating officer.
The Home of Golf proved to be the perfect venue for this year’s induction, with a lengthy list of current Hall of Famers in attendance including Annika Sorenstam, Bernhard Langer and Arnold Palmer.
“The fact that the induction is being held here at St. Andrews means so much to me,” O’Meara said.
The 2015 class is also an indication that the new selection process, however streamlined, is in tune with the standards held by previous classes.
O’Meara is a 16-time winner on the PGA Tour and became the first player to collect two majors in a single season in his 40s when he won the 1998 Masters and Open Championship.
Graham’s career was just as impressive, 36 international victories and two majors (1981 U.S. Open and 1979 PGA Championship), and his acceptance speech was a rare blend of class, humility and emotion that was highlighted with an anecdote involving a round of golf with president George H.W. Bush shortly after learning he’d been selected to join the Hall.
“I told Bush of my selection and after my first shot he said, ‘Nice shot, Hall of Famer,’” Graham said. “That was the first time I heard that and from the president, which was pretty special.”
Tillinghast died in 1942 after designing some of the United States’ best golf courses including Bethpage Black, Baltusrol and Winged Foot. Long-time English golf writer John Hopkins introduced Tillinghast simply as the “forgotten genius of American golf course architecture.”
Overall, the new process and new place seemed to be a step forward for the Hall, which has been in search of an identity for some time. Even Davies’ awkward absence couldn’t change that.
“The Hall of Fame is exactly where she belongs,” Meacham said.
And it was just as noteworthy on Monday at St. Andrews that the Hall of Fame seems to have arrived at a better place as well.