News & Opinion

These 5 champions merit looks for World Golf Hall of Fame

Padraig Harrington, a 3-time major winner, should have a spot in golf’s shrine, and Tom Weiskopf, Macdonald Smith, Norman Von Nida and Lee Westwood are worthy of consideration, too

The World Golf Hall of Fame is flawed, to be sure. Observers already are grousing about former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem’s getting enough votes to be enshrined. Whether Finchem deserves it is an argument that can’t be won on either side.

But there are some people who have done enough – on the golf course – to win entry. They’re being kept out of the St. Augustine, Fla., hall based on prejudice, hard feelings, unreasonable bias or just plain ignorance.

For instance, Jane Blalock won’t be elected because too many golf insiders still remember the cheating scandal that engulfed her in the early 1970s. That unforgivable blemish forever has stained what otherwise would have been a hall-of-fame career.

Others, however, are worthy on their merits. If the voters would just brush up on their history and do what’s right instead of merely what’s popular, the flaws in the hall would be on the way to being corrected. Finchem will join Tiger Woods, the late Marion Hollins and a soon-to-be-disclosed fourth honoree in the hall’s Class of 2021. Here are five more champions worthy of inclusion:

Padraig Harrington, PGA Tour player
Padraig Harrington, a 3-time major champion and prolific winner worldwide, deserves a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame, Morning Read contributor Mike Purkey contends.

Padraig Harrington: A number of people, particularly Europeans, thought Harrington would be in the WGHOF’s new class. If not this time, then perhaps next. If not then, it’s simply a matter of time.

Harrington’s qualification for the hall is singular: The Irishman won three major championships in a span of 13 months, surely some of the best golf ever played in a short period of time, particularly in the Tiger Woods era.

Harrington won the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie, beating Sergio Garcia in a playoff. The next year, he repeated at the Open at Royal Birkdale, stopping Greg Norman’s quest for a third Claret Jug in as many decades. Three weeks later, Harrington overtook Garcia and Ben Curtis to win the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.

Harrington was the player of the year on the PGA and European tours in 2008. He has 29 worldwide wins, including six on the PGA Tour. If that’s not enough to get him in, there shouldn’t be a Hall of Fame.

Tom Weiskopf, former PGA Tour player
Tom Weiskopf

Tom Weiskopf: The biggest mistake Weiskopf made in his career is that he was born at the wrong time. As a college and professional contemporary of fellow Ohioan Jack Nicklaus’, Weiskopf kept running into Nicklaus at the most inopportune times.

Weiskopf won 16 times on the PGA Tour, including the British Open in 1973, which was his best season. He won five times on the PGA Tour that year, plus once in South Africa and added the World Series of Golf title before it was an official Tour event. He ended the year as the No. 2 player in the unofficial world rankings. However, it’s the close calls that are keeping Weiskopf out of the hall. He was runner-up at the Masters four times, including twice to Nicklaus. At the U.S. Open, he finished in the top four five times from 1973 to ’79, including a tie for second in 1976.

Plus, Weiskopf has become a prolific and highly regarded course architect, notably as a partner with the late Jay Morrish.

Perhaps Weiskopf is being kept out of the hall for skipping the 1977 Ryder Cup to go big-game hunting. Or maybe it’s his behavior toward amateur Jim Stahl at the 1996 U.S. Senior Open. But if being a jerk at the wrong time is a disqualifying factor, the Hall of Fame would be a lot smaller than it is now.

Macdonald Smith: The Scottish-born Smith has one qualification that rises above all others: 25 victories on the PGA Tour. The late Smith owns the most tournament titles of anyone not elected to the WGHOF. That alone should be enough, but voters have been ignoring Smith for years.

Part of the reason is the era in which he played. In the 1920s and ’30s, Smith toiled in the shadows of the great Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. In that regard, Smith’s list of achievements doesn’t stack up to Jones’ and Hagen’s. But that is the wrong reason to keep Smith, who died in 1949 at age 59, out of the hall.

Smith won the Western Open three times in three decades – 1912, 1925 and 1933 – when the Western was considered equal to the majors that existed at the time: U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. Smith also won the North and South Open in 1925 – another tournament that some regarded as a major. He also claimed four Los Angeles Open titles.

Smith never won a major, which might be keeping him out of the hall, but he finished second in majors twice in 1930 – the U.S. and British opens – both behind Jones, who won the Grand Slam that year. And Smith was runner-up to Gene Sarazen at the 1932 British Open.

There’s absolutely no reason to keep Smith out of the hall. In fact, voting him in would right a historical wrong.

Norman Von Nida: At times, organizers and voters should be reminded of the “World” part of the Hall of Fame, which means that golfers whose achievements were amassed in places other than the U.S. and Europe should be included.

Australia is regularly and grossly overlooked. Peter Thomson and Greg Norman are slam-dunk hall members, and they are joined by Aussies David Graham, Kel Nagle, Jan Stephenson, Walter Travis and Karrie Webb. But there’s at least one more deserving Australian who has been ignored.

The most glaring omission is Von Nida, who is immediately in back of Thomson and Norman in terms of great Australian players.

Von Nida, who died in 2007 at age 93, was Australia’s first prolific tournament winner, with 48 worldwide victories to his credit, including 32 in Australia. He won the Australian Open three times and claimed four Australian PGA titles, winning both championships in 1950.

Von Nida competed in Great Britain for the first time in 1946 and finished second on the Order of Merit. The next year, Von Nida won seven tournaments in Great Britain and captured the Order of Merit. He posted four top-10s in the British Open, including three straight finishes among the top six, from 1946 to ’48.

The world should know how good Von Nida was. This is the chance.

Lee Westwood: Westwood is being kept out of the WGHOF by a couple of biases on the part of the voters. First, the Englishman hasn’t won a major. Second, he has won only twice on the PGA Tour. Neither of those supposed shortcomings should be disqualifying.

Westwood, 46, won on the European Tour for the 25th time in January in Abu Dhabi, which should give him high marks for longevity. But the record is clear, and Westwood should have his place in the hall. He owns 44 worldwide victories on seven tours in four decades.

He ranked No. 1 in the world in 2010, unseating Tiger Woods. He won the European Tour Order of Merit in 2000 and 2009 and is a three-time player of the year. He has played in 10 Ryder Cups and certainly will be the next European captain.

If three runners-up in majors is keeping Westwood out of the hall, the rest of his resume is more than enough to swing open the door. In this era when worthy candidates are becoming more difficult to find, second place in a major should be an achievement, not a liability.

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