If, as Walter Travis said, "Golf is more than a mere game. Golf is a religion," then Hall of Fame inductions ought to be its holy days.
Monday night qualified. In a way that even memorable Hall of Fame inductions of the past have not, the 2009 induction felt almost like a spiritual event. The four speeches, by inductees Jose Maria Olazabal and Lanny Wadkins, along with acceptances by Arnold Palmer (on behalf of Dwight D. Eisenhower) and Christy O'Connor Jr. for his uncle, Christy O'Connor, were humble, moving and above all, full of gratitude, both toward the new Hall of Fame members and from them for the people who helped them succeed. [#image: /photos/55adb2a2b01eefe207f8c541]|||images-1.jpeg|||
Olazabal was remarkable, especially given that he was speaking in English, not Spanish. He paid tribute to his mentor and idol, Seve Ballesteros, who had "presented" his protege in a short video, still suffering the effects of brain surgery last year. "Enjoy this special night, and from me, receive a big hug," Ballesteros said. Olazabal recounted their first competitive game together and their incredible success in the Ryder Cup and thanked Ballesteros for his guidance. "I was never a genius like you," Olazabal said. "All I could hope for is for you to be proud of me." A moment later, anyone who still had not been moved to tears was when Olazabal asked permission to speak in Spanish to his parents, Gaspar and Juliana, who neither speak nor understand English. He told them he loved them and that he was grateful for all of their sacrifice.
In its elegant, heartfelt way, Olazabal's expression of gratitude set the tone for the evening. Arnold Palmer told of his long relationship with Ike, who had, prior to the 1958 Masters asked Clifford Roberts to play with the winner on the Monday following. Roberts asked Palmer on Sunday afternoon if he could do it. "I think I can arrange my schedule to play with the President," Palmer deadpanned, and one of golf's great friendships, and the most effective promotional team in the history of the sport, was born. (It was a simpler time and though Tiger Woods and Barack Obama might also bring the sport great exposure, one thinks today's partisanship may not allow it, even if they had the grassroots appeal of Ike and Arnie.)
Christy O'Connor Jr. gave a charming tribute to his uncle, a mainstay of GB&I Ryder Cup teams for nearly 20 years beginning in 1957, when his side won for the first time since the '30s, and winner of 43 professional tournaments.
And then it was Lanny Wadkins' turn, and the PGA champion and U.S. Ryder Cup star and captain, one of golf's most cocky competitors, ended the evening on the humble, gracious note Olazabal had begun it. He thanked the sport for allowing him to play with his heroes -- Nicklaus, Sarazen, Hogan, Watson -- thanked his teachers, including the late Dick Harmon, thanked his family, including sons Tucker and Travis and brother Bobby. With his brother's face, clenched in vain to hold back tears appearing on the giant screens to the left and right of him, Lanny said simply: "I wouldn't be here without you." He then thanked his wife Pam for her devotion to him and their sons, and, in a moment one doesn't normally associate with the tough Wadkins, told her he loved her. Then, with a final vowing to "move up the Wadkins competitive ladder" and take a little money from his boys, Lanny brought a memorable, moving evening to an end.
While we're on the subject of the Hall of Fame -- not that a note here will move any attendance needles -- I urge you all to make the trip. The exhibits are astoundingly good, you could easily spend a day there, the golf is terrific (especially the King and the Bear) and the induction ceremony, if it's anything like this year's, is worth the trip in itself.
-- *Bob Carney