When Louis Oosthuizen missed his birdie putt on the fourth hole of the playoff at this year’s Open Championship, it brought winner Zach Johnson to tears. He was overcome with emotion. Speechless. He had just made the World Golf Hall of Fame.
OK, maybe not. Perhaps hoisting the Claret Jug and yet again overcoming the odds to win a major were more at the forefront of Johnson’s mind. But, me? I saw him as a Hall of Famer.
On the same week that Mark O’Meara headlined a class of new inductees into the Hall of Fame, it seemed only fitting that Johnson secured his spot at some point down the line. Both men, in terms of game and accomplishment, have a lot in common. Overlooked within their peer group. Winners of the same two majors. Solid, steady careers. And poster children of the new-era of Hall of Fame credentials.
As a refresher, here's the Cliff's Notes breakdown of the new criteria for (male) eligibility:
1. Be 40 years old or five years removed from retirement
2. Have 15 wins internationally (PGA, European, Japan, Sunshine, Asian or Australasian Tours)
3. Two wins of any of the four majors or The Players
In the modern era, identifying a Hall of Fame player is exceedingly more difficult within the framework of this selection criteria. The depth of the game has made winning arguably harder than ever. In hindsight, it is easy for us to say that there were golden ages of Hall of Fame golfers. When Arnold Palmer won his last PGA Tour title in 1973, there were a dozen other Hall of Famers in the midst of their winning careers.
Today, there are six active golfers with 15 or more wins on Tour. Three of them -- Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els -- are already in the Hall of Fame. The others -- Tiger Woods, Davis Love III and Jim Furyk -- will be there soon. But, you could make the argument that all six may never win another title. Long odds, but worth the debate.
Are there 10 active players right now who will meet the 15-or-2 criteria, and are there others away from the game who should be given stronger consideration? Let’s classify the contenders.
(Note: For the sake of keeping this exercise simple, I am only including golfers who have extensive PGA Tour winning resumes and relevance. The global growth of talent will give us a surge of Hall of Famers, especially when we study the international accomplishments of Miguel Angel Jimenez, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn, Ian Woosnam (should be in already) and Darren Clarke.)
Davis Love III – 20 PGA Tour wins, 1 major, 1 Players -- I’ll admit, every time I look up DL3’s stats, I pinch myself. He won 20 times! That’s the same number of Tour titles as Greg Norman. For somebody who was a high-profile star pre-Tiger, his resume is sneaky. And he had 21 top-10 results in majors.
Jim Furyk – 17 PGA Tour wins, 1 major -- Sadly, the narrative in the twilight of his career has been dominated by Sunday failures until his win at Hilton Head earlier this year. The carnal release of emotion when his putt dropped was all you needed to hear to understand how much he values winning and, although he won’t admit it publicly, his legacy.
Zach Johnson – 12 PGA Tour wins, 2 majors -- He is the only American in this exercise in the “12 AND 2" Club. I also think, from a Hall of Fame standpoint, that golfers like Furyk and Johnson make compelling exhibits. Can’t you just see a “Swing Like Furyk” interactive display, next to a giant ball of string that represents how many miles of putts Johnson made? And the fact both of them grinded out every dollar of their success is worth something.
Padraig Harrington – 17 combined wins, 3 majors -- Paddy has it nailed in both categories, and while I said we would leave international guys off the list, his 3 major triumphs offer enough mainstream recognition (and qualification) for the sake of discussion. At the very least, he should be labeled as the greatest door-open sprinter of all time, fully taking advantage of Tiger’s absence in 2008 to secure his HoF credentials.
Retief Goosen – 31 worldwide qualifying wins, 2 majors -- Same issue here given the journeyman nature of Goosen’s schedule, but he has seven domestic wins, including the U.S. Open twice. He’s been 40 years old for six years, which surprises me that he hasn’t gotten the call already.
Tiger Woods – 79 PGA Tour wins, 14 majors -- You know the numbers. I almost forgot to include him, but to avoid overloading the comments section, I guess he needs a spot.
Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth – There is really no doubt in anybody’s mind that these guys aren’t going to rocket up the list, right? They each have the major component nailed. They are in, but we hope as members of the "Dynamic Duo," which will be a hipper display that respectfully follows the Big Three display in St. Augustine. While we are at it, in terms of guys in their playing prime, it’s hard to imagine Adam Scott won’t be there too, along with Bubba Watson.
You Would Think So, Right?
Corey Pavin – 15 PGA Tour wins, 1 major -- His resume is almost identical to Fred Couples, minus The Players. But, the iconic shot at Shinnecock has to provide bonus points with the committee. The issue? His career didn’t have the longevity of others, with his win in Milwaukee in 2006 being a huge outlier, 10 years after the previous. However, if you add up his worldwide qualifying wins, the number swells to 20.
Tom Weiskopf – 16 PGA Tour wins, 1 major -- Fred Couples' entry into the Hall last year brought a number of names back into the conversation. Boom-Boom has 15 wins, one major and two Players. The last two wins provide a separator, but can you say his career is really better than Weiskopf’s? You say ‘yes’ because of marketing and likability. But, as is the case in every sport, the subjective nature of the Hall of Fame vetting process always skews towards the fan or media favorites. In a vacuum, Weiskopf should be in the Hall.
Hal Sutton – 14 PGA Tour wins, 1 major, 2 Players -- Same argument for Sutton, who, if we are vetting people based on potential exhibit material, is a no-brainer because we can run the video loop of “Be the right club tuh-day!” and inspire more generations of ball barkers. I think my criteria will now take on a more mathematical formula: If Couples, then Sutton.
Justin Leonard – 12 PGA Tour wins, 1 major, 1 Players -- I’m not sure I am 100 percent behind this one, but I want to make the case because of his amateur record: a U.S. Amateur champion, NCAA champion, two Western Ams and two Southern Ams. It’s a stout amateur record. This is my lobbying for those accomplishments to be included when looking at a borderline Hall of Fame resume.
David Duval – 13 PGA Tour wins, 1 major, 1 Players -- I’m a little biased here. At the tail end of my junior playing days, you went one of two directions. You either hitched your wagon to Tiger, or you found an anti-hero to cheer for. I chose the non-Yankees latter and went all-in on D-squared. Even with Tiger running rickshaw on the golf world in 2000, I still felt solid in my choice. (SMH.) Duval had 10 top-10 finishes in the 16 majors played from 1998-2001. Only Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Duval took the No. 1 ranking from a healthy Tiger. That should count for something. The career was too short, but the greatness for a flash warrants it, in my completely subjective opinion.
To wrap, here are the golfers who have gotten to No. 1 and are not in the Hall of Fame, and my expert analysis on if they will be:
- Ian Woosnam – Should be.
- Tom Lehman – No. He won 5 times on Tour. I would have taken the over on 8.5 if asked.
- Lee Westwood – It would sure help if he won a major, but see: Montgomerie, Colin
- Martin Kaymer – I say yes based on the unknown future combination of youth and proven greatness.