News & Opinion

Hey, Hall of Fame: Tiger Woods doesn’t need you

Sure, Tiger Woods is a lock for induction into golf’s shrine, but why so soon? At 45, he will be eligible next year under new guidelines, which makes the hall more of a current event than a historic one

It’s just goofy. How else to explain it? On the same day last week when the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum was announcing Derek Jeter and Larry Walker as elected members – several years after their playing careers ended – World Golf Hall of Fame officials announced they were lowering the eligibility age from 50 to 45.

The youth movement comes less than three years after the WGHOF raised the age requirement from 40 to 50, and it goes into effect for the Class of 2020-21. And in totally unrelated news (wink-wink), Tiger Woods turns 45 in December.

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There will be no looking back next year for Tiger Woods, who is a shoo-in for induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame after the age minimum recently was reduced to 45. Woods, who will turn 45 in December, is expected still to be chasing victories on the PGA Tour rather than reflecting on his extraordinary career accomplishments.

Greg McLaughlin, the World Golf Foundation’s chief executive officer, explained that the age reduction will “enhance the Hall of Fame in many ways and bring greater attention to the most deserving players at a time in their careers when they are still competing at the highest level.”

A counter view would suggest the action trivializes the Hall of Fame distinction and minimizes the attention it commands at a time when the best players already are smothered with attention.

McLaughlin, the former head of the Tiger Woods Foundation, noted that most of the game’s best players are “still competing at the highest level” at age 45. And they will be for a few more years, or until they cross the bridge to PGA Tour Championsville.

Now, imagine if baseball had this same HOF approach. As was reiterated in the recent baseball writers’ vote, players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro are undesirables because of their association with performance-enhancing drugs. But if the keepers of Cooperstown followed golf’s standard, the baseball age of eligibility would be around 33-34.

Players such as Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro would have been minted Hall of Fame inductees before the PED revelations. Wouldn’t that be awkward? Cooperstown would have to supplement the induction vote with an annual eviction vote. ESPN is smacking its programming lips just thinking about it.

A hall-of-fame honor never should run the risk of being premature. To suggest deserving players need “greater attention” in the midst of their careers as relevant competitors is plain silly. Where sports stars are concerned, attention is hardly in short supply. Tiger Woods needs more attention like Bryson DeChambeau needs more time to think.

And while we’re on the subject, did you know that Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els are Hall of Famers? Do you think they know? You might have to remind them. Mickelson was inducted in 2012, at the age of 41. Presumably, his body had begun mummifying.

Informed of his election, Mickelson was properly appreciative, but also offered a sensible thought: “I think it [the minimum age] should probably be looked to move back to 50 because the Hall of Fame is an opportunity to reflect on your career,” he said. “I’m still in the stage where I’m looking forward at my career, looking ahead to other opportunities and other tournaments.”

A year later, Mickelson won the British Open at Muirfield. Seriously, which of those events warranted greater attention? Els followed a similar script. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame at age 41 in 2011, then declared “champion golfer of the year” at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2012.

A hall-of-fame induction, at least one worth its pomp, should be a historic event, not a current event. It should be a crowning achievement, not a status bump in a frequent-flyer account. The National Baseball Hall of Fame is a museum; the World Golf Hall of Fame is a compliment.

Ted Simmons goes into baseball’s Hall of Fame this summer. Simmons is 70. His career ended in 1988, and his induction takes place 32 years later. The moment will be defining for him, emotionally overwhelming, his entrance into Camelot.

Tiger Woods will be voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame at the age of 45. But why 45? Why not 25? He could have been inducted shortly after he completed the “Tiger Slam” in 2001.

The HOF will be a nice accolade for Woods, to be sure, another trophy for the closet. Maybe Jim Furyk or Padraig Harrington, both of whom also will be eligible, will go in with him. And when the ceremonial evening’s done, they can get on with their playing careers and focus on winning the next big championship.

I’m not saying that’s wrong. It’s just goofy. How else to explain it?

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