News & Opinion

Dead men give lousy hall induction talks

Amid the aftermath of the Ryder Cup, you might have missed the fact that the World Golf Hall of Fame released the names of 15 finalists for the 2019 induction.

They’re all worthy, I’m sure, of recognition and induction someday into a hall that no longer recognizes excellence as much as the entertainment value of induction.

I say this as you look at the list and realize that with all but three of the finalists – Jim Ferrier, Peggy Kirk Bell and Beverly Hanson – the potential inductees are alive:

Male Competitor: Retief Goosen (South Africa), Graham Marsh (Australia), Corey Pavin (U.S.), Hal Sutton (U.S.). Female Competitor: Susie Maxwell Berning (U.S.), Beverly Hanson (U.S.), Sandra Palmer (U.S.), Dottie Pepper (U.S.), Jan Stephenson (Australia). Lifetime Achievement: Peggy Kirk Bell (U.S.), Billy Payne (U.S.), Dennis Walters (U.S.). Veterans: Jim Ferrier (Australia), Catherine Lacoste (France), Calvin Peete (U.S.).

The hall is set to announce its 2019 class on Wednesday.

If the numerous halls of fame have learned one thing, it is that posthumous inductions are not nearly as interesting as recognizing those who can stand up and thank everyone for the honor.

Which brings me to a legend who somehow has missed the committee’s attention. Macdonald Smith has been dead for 69 years. That fact makes him ancient in the eyes of the 20 –including such notables as Hale Irwin, Nick Price, Curtis Strange, Karrie Webb and Juli Inkster – who voted on the final list.

All are knowledgeable about golf, but how knowledgeable are they regarding the game’s history?

Smith won his first PGA Tour event in the 1912 Western Open at Idlewild Country Club in Flossmoor, Ill. The field included John McDermott, Fred McLeod, Alex Smith and Jock Hutchison.

Hutchison is in the Hall of Fame, and McDermott was the second player in U.S. Open history to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, in 1911 and 1912.

When the Western Open started in 1899, it was one of the premier events and on a par with the U.S. Open. The event was considered to hold the prestige of a major championship until after World War II.

For Smith, the 1912 victory would be one of three Western titles in three decades, including the 1925 and 1933 editions.

Other winners of the Western of that era were future hall-of-famers Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour and Gene Sarazen.

Unlike walking away with million-dollar checks from $8 million purses, Smith earned $300 in 1912 from a $725 purse, with only the top five being paid.

Making a living in golf was not easy a century ago.

The Chicago Tribune from Aug. 30, 1912 provided some color to Smith’s victory: “In addition to winning the gold medal, Macdonald won first prize of $300 and he bought half a ticket on himself in the pool which netted him $80 more. He divided first money in the professional-amateur event on Tuesday and won first prize in the open event at Kenosha, bringing his winning for the week close to $600.”

“One of the best professional matches of the year has been arranged for Sunday at Idlewild. McDermott, national champion will meet Smith the new Western champion, in a 36-hole match for a purse of $150.”

Such was the life of Macdonald Smith.

Over the next 28 years, Smith would compete on what would become the PGA Tour, winning 25 tournaments, including winning four times in 1925 and five times in 1926. In addition to his three Western Opens, Smith won four Los Angeles Opens and a Canadian Open.

Starting in 1910, Smith played in his first major championship, the U.S. Open, finishing third. From 1910 to 1937, Smith made 28 appearances in the U.S. Open and British Open, recording 16 top 10s, including six top-3 results.

Smith also played in the first Masters, in 1934, tying for seventh, including a second-round 70 at age 44.

During Smith’s prime, eight majors never took place because of World War I. Smith played superior golf against some of the greats in the game.

An argument can be made for the other candidates, but Smith is more deserving. The problem is, none of the committee members saw him play or met him.

The biggest problem for Smith regarding the World Golf Hall of Fame is that he’s dead, and the dead don’t accept honors well.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email:; Twitter: @AlexMiceli