A closed shop for the Hall of Fame
ORLANDO, Florida (AP) — No one should have been more thrilled than Vijay Singh to hear about the voting changes for the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Singh is already in.
He was elected in 2005 with 56 percent of the vote from a panel that consisted mainly of golf writers, most of whom the big Fijian had blown off over the years. By then, Singh had 25 PGA Tour victories, three majors, two PGA Tour money titles and one Jack Nicklaus Award as player of the year. He is among the greats in the game.
In sweeping changes announced Sunday, a 16-member panel with a majority of golf administrators now decides who gets in the Hall of Fame. Imagine them debating the merits of a guy who has an active and very acrimonious lawsuit against the PGA Tour over its anti-doping policy.
“We liked the old system,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said. “But we like this one better.”
That would suggest the old system was working fine. And if something isn’t broken, did it really need to be fixed?
What was wrong with the old system had nothing to do with who voted, and everything to do with who attended the induction ceremony, which now will be every other year. At recent ceremonies, the chatter was increasingly louder about how few Hall of Fame members bothered to show up.
Last May, only eight members were there, all of them women. That wasn’t a surprise. The LPGA Hall of Fame, which existed before it was morphed into the World Golf Hall of Fame, was seen as the highest honor for its players. The men care more about green jackets and claret jugs than a plaque and a concrete slab with their signature on the walkway at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine.
Here’s how the voting process works now:
A 20-member subcommittee will meet this spring to nominate five male and five female players, along with three people from the Veterans and Lifetime Achievement categories. Twelve of those 20 committee members are administrators, which includes the Ryder Cup director for Europe, the head of public services for the USGA, the communications director of the PGA of America and the vice chairman of IMG. Six are Hall of Fame members. Two are writers.
The nominations go to the 16-member panel that will “discuss the merits and vote.” A candidate has to receive 75 percent (12 votes), and there can be no more than five members of an induction class.
The co-chairs of that panel are Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam. So that’s four people who will be expected at the next induction ceremony in May 2015, along with the six Hall of Famers from the nominating panel (Curtis Strange, Johnny Miller, Karrie Webb, Carol Mann, Beth Daniel and Peter Alliss).
The rest of the voting panel includes the heads of the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, PGA of America, The Masters, the USGA, the R&A, the Japan LPGA and the Sunshine Tour in South Africa. They are joined by three writers.
No one understands greatness like a player. All of them on both panels were good choices.
Missing from the process is the independent voice of the writers. That’s how it works in baseball and football, the best two shrines in sports. The explanation from Jack Peter, the chief operating officer of the World Golf Hall of Fame, was bordering on offensive, if not ridiculous.
“We believe it puts the decision-making of who gets into the Hall of Fame in the right hands — individuals who know the history of the game, have a passion for the game, who know the players, who understand the qualities that make up a Hall of Famer,” he said.
Some of the administrators — maybe even most of them — have a greater appreciation and sense of history than some writers who once had a ballot. But, for the most part, they’re not in the business of chronicling the game, but to make money off it.
The induction ceremony long ago became more about a celebration of golf than a celebration of greatness when it lowered the minimum vote required for election from 75 percent to 65 percent, and then created a loophole that said if no one received 65 percent, whoever had the most votes over 50 percent would get in.
Peter said the previous voting body of 300 people was getting “a bit unwieldy.” He also said the media landscape was changing (true) and that writers were under pressure to cover other sports. That would suggest that Dan Jenkins, inducted two years ago, has never covered a college football game.
The solution would have been simple. If there are minimum requirements for players to be nominated (15 wins or two majors), there could easily have been a minimum requirement for writers. For example, they would get a ballot only if they covered 250 tournaments or 50 majors.
Golf writers now have been minimized. There was little, if any, consultation over the changes.
It should be noted that the World Golf Foundation board — which now has seven of the 16 votes — once was in charge of the Lifetime Achievement category. They selected former President George H.W. Bush, presumably because he was honorary chairman of The First Tee and the Presidents Cup. He loved golf, and he was known to play it quickly.
And voting for the Hall of Fame is now in the right hands?