World Golf Hall of Fame inductees share stories through laughter and tears
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NEW YORK — The four living members of the World Golf Hall of Fame Class of 2017 took disparate paths to arrive at the same destination. Davis Love III was the son of a golf professional seemingly born to play the game. Ian Woosnam used his powerful swing, and demeanor, to will himself to greatness. Lorena Ochoa was a trailblazer in her home country, single-handedly inspiring the next generation of Mexican golfers. Meg Mallon needed time to find her way on the LPGA Tour, but once she did, the competitor in her took over and gave her an extra edge.
On Tuesday night at Cipriani Ballroom in Lower Manhattan, in front of an audience that included 31 members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, they shared some of the stories from their personal journeys while officially taking their places in golf’s most prestigious club, along with the late British golf journalist, Henry Longhurst,
Mallon, the youngest of six children, reflected on the camaraderie she felt among her fellow players and the solidarity that lifted her to 18 LPGA titles, four major-championship victories and eight Solheim Cup appearances.
“I loved the era I played in,” Mallon said. “The staff and players really were a family, traversing the world together, united in a common goal, to grow our tour, and bound together by challenges we all faced. Like it was not unheard of to be able to play a golf course but not be allowed to use the clubhouse facilities, and it’s also true I was kicked off a practice facility, not because I was a woman but because I was an LPGA player. It seemed like we were constantly being told what we were not rather than what we were. What we are, are the best damn female golfers in the world who have persevered and are better for it.”
Not surprisingly, Woosnam played a joke at his own expense, talking about a conversation he had as a 14-year-old with a member of his home club in Wales. The member asked him what he was going to do when he was done with school. Woosnam told him he was going to play professional golf, win tournaments and majors, and become the best player in the world.
“He laughed and tapped me on the head,” Woosnam recalled, “if you’re going to want to achieve all that you’re going to have to grow a little. Well I did, if only a little.”
But it was enough for the 5-foot-4 Woosnam to win 29 European Tour titles, two Order of Merits and the 1991 Masters. “He’s the longest hitter I ever saw, pound for pound,” said Gary Player, who presented Woosnam for induction.
Woosnam’s enshrinement into the Hall of Fame means all of Europe’s Big Five (including Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle and Bernhard Langer) who helped revitalize the Ryder Cup, an event in which the Wee Welshman played eight times while also serving as captain of the victorious 2006 European team, have had their accomplishments immortalized.
Ochoa’s impressive career started with five straight victories in the Junior World championship in San Diego. “To tell you the truth, I just wanted to go to Disneyland,” she joked. But then she explained how the joy of competing and winning drove her to want to do it more and more, through her dominant years in college golf at Arizona and then on to winning 27 LPGA titles and two major championships as a professional, while earning player of the year honors four straight times from 2006-2009.
These numbers would no doubt have been greater had she not stunned the golf world when she decided to step away from the game—at just 28—in 2010, shortly after getting married to her husband, Andrés Conesa. The “what if” game for what Ochoa’s career marks might have been is a fun one for many to play, but Ochoa isn’t among them. As others questioned why she’d go out with plenty of golf still left in her, she reiterated why she played and why it was time for her to try something else.
“I announced my retirement at the perfect time,” Ochoa said. “Now I feel like I’m the luckiest woman in the world. We have three incredible children, Pedro, Julia and Diego. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
While wanting to have kids caused Ochoa to step away from the game, the sport is the tie that binds Love’s family. By learning the game from his father, Davis Jr., an accomplished player and instructor, Davis III received the greatest of gifts.
“This game has given me far more than I can ever give it,” said the 21-time PGA Tour winner, whose victories span four different decade, highlighted by his 1997 PGA Championship title. “This night for example.”
At the close of his speech, Davis III poignantly expressed what golf has meant to him. To do that, the 53-year-old had his granddaughter, Eloise, join him on the stage. Holding her in his arms, he told her through tear-filled eyes about how her great-grandfather had played in the U.S. Open, her grandfather played in a U.S. Open and her uncle, Dru Love, had just played in his first this past summer.
“Maybe someday you’ll play in a U.S. Open,” Davis III said. “That’s up to you. But whether you do or don’t, I hope the game I know and love will be there for you as it was, and as it is, for me.
“Golf has improved my life in every way, and this I can guarantee, it will do the same for you.”