x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Golf's Hall of Fame appears a little less hallowed

Thanks to a habit of annually enshrining gangs in fivesomes and sixsomes, the World Golf Hall of Fame becoming the Hall of the Pretty Good, writes Steve Elling.

Colin Montgomerie reached as high as No 2 in the world rankings and his Ryder Cup performances are among the best in the competition's history.
Colin Montgomerie reached as high as No 2 in the world rankings and his Ryder Cup performances are among the best in the competition's history.

The quintet set for induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame next spring, particularly the trio of former players that still has their collective spikes above ground, has much in common. Of course, some might argue that, in the case of this triumvirate, that is not exactly a cause for mass celebrations.

Common, in fact, very nearly describes the most visible members of the class.

Colin Montgomerie, Ken Venturi and Fred Couples lead the list of five inductees set for May 6, and bluntly put, it is a trio that can pass the hours together before the induction ceremony discussing all the big tournaments they never won.

Ladies and gents, the Class of 2013: dilution, diminution and decrement.

Yet again, the gatekeepers at the Hall have waved through a massive class of inductees, led by three modern-era players who combined to win a not-so-grand tally of two grand slam titles. Thanks to the maddening habit of annually enshrining gangs in fivesomes and sixsomes - groups that large are not allowed on your home course, and probably should not be permitted here - it is fast become the Hall of the Pretty Good.

Simply put, the en masse classes are part of the Hall's plan to remain relevant and on the proverbial fan radar, though it certainly has created a backlash among voters and aficionados. Eyes are spinning backwards in heads like crisply struck wedge shots.

Even the players understand the pitfalls. When the affable Couples was announced as an inductee a few weeks ago, he laughed and admitted that he had won a "popularity contest". Pretty close to the truth, really. As a Hall voter myself, the annual ballots have become an exercise in attrition, as in picking from the best of the rest.

Having long ago sent a school-bus-sized limo to retrieve the most worthy candidates, the Hall is lowering the bar to the point that players with 15 career wins in the United States, the total amassed by the underachieving Couples, is good enough. He managed one major championship, as did Venturi, who was inducted in large part because of his decades-long career as a golf broadcaster. Venturi, his career derailed by carpal tunnel issues, won 14 times on the US PGA Tour.

The Hall sends forth its inductees in drips and dollops, thus ensuring more coverage, if not outrage, and on Tuesday announced that Montgomerie had been added via the International Ballot provision. While the mercurial Scot topped the European Tour in earnings on eight different occasions and was the face of the circuit for years, he never won a major championship nor a tournament in the States, where the competition is far deeper.

Full disclosure: I voted for Montgomerie, and like we indicated, he was the best of the remaining bunch.

The crop of nominees has become so thin that Montgomerie and Couples each secured a thin 51 per cent of the ballot tally in their respective categories - voters are allowed to choose multiple players annually.

On the International and PGA Tour ballots, the threshold for inclusion is 65 per cent of the vote, unless no candidate reaches that total. Then the player with the most votes over 50 per cent is the lucky winner.

Ah, the new "one per centers".

Maybe we should demand a recount.

Located a short par-3 off the busy Interstate 95 in St Augustine, Florida, the Hall has become the car dealership of golf - a high-volume sales lot, rolling out new models, many of iffy construct. As noted by Peter Kostis, the CBS golf analyst, after the Montgomerie news was imparted on Tuesday, the Hall keeps inducting five people annually, while the game is not exactly producing five star-calibre players each season to replace them.

Couples twice was named the PGA Tour player of the year and was the first American to reach No 1 in the world rankings. Montgomerie never climbed the latter mountain, reaching No 2, though his Ryder Cup record is arguably the best in the competition's rich history.

Clearly, they were among the best of their ilk for a time, but comprehensive greatness escaped them, at least by most scorecard definitions.

Their inclusion essentially ensures that Mark O'Meara (16 US wins, two majors), Jim Furyk (16, 1) and David Toms (13, 1) are locks to someday be enshrined. After all, until recently, even John Daly (five wins, two majors) was listed on the PGA Tour ballot.

Clearly, the Hall takes its name seriously. "Fame" should not be confused with "Great".



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