BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Our editor-at-large casts an eye back on Ian Woosnam’s impressive career and explains why his place in the World Golf Hall of Fame is justified
t’s always good to see a big wrong righted and so it came to pass when Ian Woosnam was finally voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. About time.
That’s not only my opinion, it’s Woosie’s. For quite a while now, the Welshman has eagerly looked up to see who has been elected to be inducted at the grand place just outside St Augustine in Florida. And for a quite a while, he has tossed his paper aside with a mixture of disappointment, confusion and some legitimate disgust.
Last time I looked, there were 149 heroic members of this particular Hall of Fame. That Ian Harold Woosnam has not been among this honoured posse of significant players, administrators and journalists has been an ongoing mystery. Was it, some of us wondered, something he had said?
For nearly 20 years I was on the voting panel and for a lot of those years I filled in Ian’s name when asked to supply a couple of recommendations. Maybe it was something I said. Whatever the reason, however, the wee man never came out of the hat to be inducted, praised, applauded and have his face preserved for eternity – or the next decade, whichever comes first – in one of the weird, copper-coloured face plaques that line the hall’s walls.
It seemed extraordinary that a bloke who had won The Masters and some 51 other pro events, who had successfully skippered a European team in the 2006 Ryder Cup and who was World No.1 for the best part of a year in the early 90s was consistently overlooked while others got the nod, some of them encouraging onlookers to wonder, “Really? I mean really?”
While I can’t see anyone who does not deserve to be applauded among that long list of 149 alumni, I can notice quite a few who should not have been ahead of the 5ft 4 ½ in Welshman. “Don’t forget the half inch!” he would advise every time his height came up. By the way, it was always advisable to heed such suggestions because Ian could be the feistiest of men if he felt he had been slighted by anyone. As we all know, half an inch can often be the difference between success and failure in many areas of life.
His desire to enter the Hall of Fame was not just down to any sort of personal vanity but also carried the important addendum that such recognition brought with it playing rights on the Champions Tour, which in turn is the best pension plan anyone in golf has come up with for our ageing heroes. Now 58 and a winner on this circuit last year, he doesn’t need this benefit any more but it would have been nice to have had it gift-wrapped several years ago.
Still, better late than never. Rest assured, Woosie will stand as tall as he can when he makes his acceptance speech in Florida next year alongside Davis Love, Meg Mallon and Lorena Ochoa. And he can take consolation on the lateness of his call-up to this roster of the significantly famous when he listens to whoever speaks on behalf of the remaining 2016 inductee, Henry Longhurst. The famed journalist and BBC commentator died 38 years ago.
What is for certain is that Woosnam may reflect on a life well lived as well as a career that marked him out as a very special player indeed. It was both his good luck and his misfortune to be born in the same 12-month span that also brought us Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle.
Woosnam is the youngest of this sensational quintet, arriving in Oswestry on March 2, 1958 and just a few weeks after Lyle, who was born 29 miles up the road in Shrewsbury. The pair spent much of their teenage years battling on golf courses, a series of encounters that cemented a lasting friendship between them as they made their way into the global consciousness.
It was perhaps inevitable that Woosie would be required to play the role of Ringo when this Fab Five began stealing the headlines, but then he had been the one who struggled most at the beginning to make sense of becoming a pro golfer, subsisting on baked beans as he wandered Europe in a camper van trying to secure his player’s card.
He could have given up. A more sensitive, less determined soul would have given up but he persevered, displaying the stubbornness and serious self-belief that has been at the core of his eventual success.
When the news came through during a Scottish Open at Gleneagles in 1991 that he had made top spot in the rankings, he invited a few of us to join him for a celebratory chat in the bar – a conversation that focused almost entirely on ordering pints of Guinness. No wonder he was known by then not as a poor man’s Ringo but as a popular People’s Champion. Enjoy the day, Ian, you deserve it.
“He invited a few of us to join him for a celebratory chat in the bar – a conversation that focused almost entirely on ordering pints of Guinness”
Bill Elliott is Golf Monthly’s editor-at-large and Golf Ambassador for Prostate Cancer UK