IT’S been a busy few days in the world of golf, administratively at least. Amidst a veritable flurry of activities, the man who will succeed Peter Dawson as chief executive of the R&A was revealed, those charged with devising a master plan that will somehow allow America’s golfers to be somewhat competitive in the Ryder Cup have been named and, just to round things off, the latest inductees to the World Golf Hall of Fame were announced.
Easily the most significant of the three is the appointment of one Martin Slumbers (insert your own punchline). In October next year, the 54-year-old Englishman will formally take his seat at the head of the imposing table that dominates what has to be the best office in golf, on the top floor of the grand old clubhouse that sits directly behind the first tee on the Old Course at St Andrews. As head of the organisation that controls the rules of golf (outside the United States and Mexico) and runs the game’s oldest and most important event, the Open Championship, the soon-to-be former Deutsche Bank executive will immediately become one of the more powerful figures in the sport.
Although almost completely unknown outside the Worplesdon club where he holds a two-handicap, Slumbers is, in so many ways, hardly a surprising appointment. A grey-haired, middle-aged former public schoolboy who has had a highly successful career in the world of business will not exactly look out of place amidst the R&A membership – even when 15 women arrive. Indeed, at first, second and third glance Slumbers’ curriculum vitae bears a more than close resemblance to that of Dawson.
Going forward then, we can surely expect more of pretty much the same from a Slumbers-led R&A, a scenario with both good and bad implications. While Dawson has professionally overseen two of the most seismic changes in the club’s history over the last 15 years – the legal split between the R&A GC and the corporate R&A and the imminent admission of women members – it is to be hoped that his successor will spend more time doing something constructive about the manic distances top professionals can propel turbo-charged golf balls with frying-pan drivers and less on pointless re-designs of classic Open venues. Just a thought, sir.
Across the Atlantic, even more has been going on over the last few days. But, just as in the Home of Golf, none of it has, upon close analysis, been too surprising. Reacting to what was an eighth defeat in the last ten Ryder Cups, the PGA of America has formed a “task force” to look at what can be done to stem the tidal wave of European victories over Uncle Sam’s increasingly hapless nephews. And, at long last, the Hall of Fame based in St Augustine, Florida, has finally come to its senses and invited Laura Davies, David Graham, AW Tillinghast and Mark O’Meara to become members.
It has been difficult not to giggle and point at the level of consternation continued failure to cope with the collective might of the Old World has provoked in the colonies. Getting stuffed every two years has clearly become something of an ordeal for the boys in red, white and blue. Star-struck rather than star-spangled, they seem somewhat befuddled by consistent defeat at the hands of a thrown-together band of continental mongrels.
So what do they do? Glad you asked. They round up almost everyone involved in this almost-unbroken run of defeats and ask them what they think. You’ve got to laugh. Alongside the usual merry band of largely-useless PGA of America officials, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk – ranked one, two and three on the “most losses in Ryder Cup matches” table – will sit down with an array of losing past captains to figure out the way ahead. Of the only two men who have actually led America to victory over the last 15 years – Ben Crenshaw and Paul Azinger – there is no sign.
One can only conclude that the old saying, “you learn more from your defeats than from your victories” must in fact be true. If it is, messrs Woods, Mickelson and Furyk’s knowledge has to be, by now, close to encyclopaedic.
On a happier note, the quartet of new inductees to the Hall of Fame will have brought pleasure to a broad cross-section of the golfing public. Just about every constituency was represented, except perhaps the Land of Our Fathers. Amidst the celebratory outpourings there was also incredulity at the continuing omission of former Masters champion and world No.1, Ian Woosnam.
Can it be that wee Woosie has upset someone at the PGA Tour, the Politburo-style body controlling goings on at the WGHOF? That would seem to be the only explanation for an institution that has welcomed the likes of Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, George Bush (the first one) and Chi-Chi Rodriguez into its regal surroundings. They have all been stuffed and mounted ahead of a man who has won a major championship, has 29 victories on the European Tour, has led his tiny country to victory in the World Cup, has played eight times in the Ryder Cup, has captained a winning European team and, last but far from least, has spent 50 weeks of his life as the best golfer on the planet.
It is a shameful omission, one that is especially egregious when one realises that Woosnam was not even on the ballot this year. Yes, his name was never discussed. But Jan Stephenson and Sandra Palmer were. Samuel Ryder too. Apparently donating a trophy is deemed superior to all that Woosnam has achieved. Unbelievable.
Still, hope remains that the not-so august body of men and women charged with deciding who is in and who is not will eventually get it right. That was certainly the case this year. All four of the successful candidates should have been in long ago, such is their level of success in their respective fields.
Tillinghast, who died as long ago as 1942, designed the likes of Winged Foot, Bethpage Black, Baltusrol and Quaker Ridge, amidst a sea of other top-class courses. That his inclusion has come more than 70 years after his demise is an absolute disgrace.
The same is true of the newly minted Dame Laura and, to only a slightly lesser extent, Graham and O’Meara. All three have more impressive credentials than, for example, recent inductees such as Colin Montgomerie and Fred Couples. All three are, for one thing, multiple major champions (Graham is the only Australian in history who has won more than one of the four Grand Slam titles). And all three have, for another, won tournaments all across the globe. Which only goes to show that politics and/or public popularity seem to count for more than actual achievement when it comes to the WGHOF.
Couples gained entry more for being “cool” than for anything else. And the suspicion here is that Monty sneaked in by a back door marked “quid pro quo”, Hall of Fame membership being the Scot’s only exempt route to a (PGA Tour-run) largely moribund over-50s “Champions” Tour in desperate need of personality and celebrity. Just a theory, mind.