Golf Australia

Exclusive: David Graham's Hall of Fame pain

/site/_content/image/00124760-image.jpg
David Graham: omission from the Hall of Fame hurtful.

Colin Montgomerie said he was humbled and very proud to be standing in front of the assembled gathering at the World Golf Hall of Fame (WGHOF) in Ponte Vedra, Florida last week after he was inducted into what should be one of the most exclusive clubs in golf.

Around about the same time, David Graham was fishing near his home in Whitefish, Montana, as he does just about every other day, wondering why he is not one of the WGHOF members that now total 146 with many far less credentialed than himself who are regarded as “golf’s greatest”.

He is both bewildered and hurt.

Ken Schofield, an extremely likeable chap and good company over a drop of the deadener, was also among those inducted last week – as an administrator of the game who was one of the founding fathers on the European Tour back in the 1970s.

Another among the 2013 inductees was the ever-popular Freddie Couples but did he warrant membership of Hall of Fame ahead of Graham?

It is open to debate.

Selection should not be a popularity contest but an appraisal of a player’s record in golf but it seems, along the way, Graham has either walked under a ladder, had a black cat cross his path or both.

Graham can be perceived as both abrasive and aloof to the casual observer. They know not of his total respect for the game of golf and the general principles of living a good life. Once a friend, he is a friend for life.

In the early 1970s when I was just starting out on my career as chief golf writer for The Age (and later the old Melbourne Herald afternoon paper and then The Sydney Morning Herald), Graham was first dipping his toes in the US PGA Tour.

I wrote a weekly column for The Age and crucial input to it were the regular letters Graham would write me from his brave new world. There was no Internet and email and to put pen to paper and a stamp on an envelope to post a letter halfway across the world took far more than the effort now to use a keyboard and push the “Send” button.

Graham greeted me like the long-lost friend I guess I am when I telephoned the other day to talk of my thoughts of the injustices, anomalies and, well, downright favouritism when it comes to selection of the members of the Hall of Fame.

It should be said, in the interests of disclosure, I am a member of the voting panel for the International ballot for the inclusion in the Hall of Fame but I can no longer vote for Graham as he was dropped from the ballot paper in 2000 as he did not receive the required five percent of the vote for two successive years.

I continue to vote for another great Australian golfer Norman Von Nida who remains on the ballot paper, not from a parochial viewpoint, but rather a genuine belief he deserves to be recognised – as does Graham.

Scottish golf writer John Huggan, who occasionally graces the pages of this website, was also a member of the voting panel but he has quit as he regards the whole process as a disgrace and now refers to the WGHOF as the Hall of Shame. I continue in the, perhaps, forlorn hope a single voice will finally be heard.

Before my telephone call to Graham, my last conversation with him was during The Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in 2011 when he came to the media centre with Peter Thomson. Out of curiosity, not malice, I asked if it was the first time Graham had been to The Presidents Cup after being dumped by the US PGA Tour in favour of Thomson after captaining the International team in the inaugural Cup series in 1994.

Graham burst into tears – and admitted it was. He had no grudge with the five-time British Open champion, just the manner and the clandestine nature of his dismissal. Graham’s wife Maureen had already gone shopping for gifts for the players’ wives/girlfriends for the 1996 Cup.

It was just three months before the Cup in 1996, and he was deeply hurt in as he is right now.

“I sit here and look at Montgomerie, and Ken Schofield, and don’t mind telling you it’s hurtful,” Graham told me on the telephone the other day.

“I don’t think I’ve pissed anybody off. I don’t know. The only person who may have enough power to prevent me getting into the Hall of Fame would be Tim Finchem (Commissioner of the PGA Tour). I don’t see any reason. He and I never locked heads.

“He made the decision to throw me under the bus with Greg Norman (in his sacking as captain of the International team for The Presidents Cup in 1996) and I don’t know whether that has anything to do with it or not."

“He (Finchem) has certainly not stepped up to the plate and said, ‘Hey, David is an accomplished player, he should get in.” It’s not that I know anything about support for me; I know he’s never been supportive. So, that’s disappointing,” Graham said.

Members of the Hall of Fame can recommend to the hall’s administrators that a player should be returned to the ballot paper, and indeed elected to the Hall of Fame, and Thomson intends to do just that.

When asked by Golf.org.au about Graham’s non-inclusion, thus far in the Hall of Fame, Thomson said: “The next time I see Finchem, I’ll talk with him. It is ludicrous David is not in there. I’ll do the best I can. He deserves to be in there without a doubt.”

“I’m flattered Mr. Thomson feels that way,” Graham said when told of Thomson’s comments.

Many members of the Hall of Fame have been inducted posthumously. Graham doesn’t want to be one of the dearly departed should it ever occur.

“I have no interest in being in the Hall of Fame when I’m dead, and I think there are a lot of people already elected into the Hall of Fame that my record as a player is superior to, and that shows the imbalance, or the political view to people with reputations and/or popularity before the records of other people.

“I am hurt that I’m not in the Hall of Fame and I don’t take any pleasure out of seeing people elected that have not as good a world record as I have, and I will forever not understand that."

“I think it has become (such) political exercise that it is “you take care of me, I’ll take care of you” kind of thing between the US and Great Britain, and that’s sad that those sort of politics exist relevant to people being elected into the Hall of Fame.

As a member of the voting panel, I have become increasingly aware of the lobbying that takes place in support of candidates. Long testimonials are written for consideration when it comes to the Lifetime Achievement category but Graham has no interest in being elected in that manner, he wants to be recognised as a player.

Let us not canvass the merits of Japanese player Jumbo Ozaki and Isao Aoki being members of the Hall of Fame right now, save to say Ozaki won 94 times on the Japan Tour, universally recognised as a far weaker arena than the PGA Tour and, to a lesser extent, the European Tour, and won only one international tournament – the New Zealand PGA championship in 1972.

And, Aoki? He won 51 times on the Japan Tour and once on the PGA Tour – in the 1983 Hawaiian Open.

No, let’s concentrate on Montgomerie and Couples.

Certainly Monty is one of the greatest European players of all time. He has won 31 times on the European Tour and won its Order of Merit eight times, but never has he won on the PGA Tour. He has never won a major, but finished runner-up five times. His Ryder Cup record in unquestioned. He never lost a singles match and in 2010 he was captain of the winning European team at Celtic Manor.

But, it is the World Golf Hall of Fame – not the European Golf Hall of Fame.

I remember at Royal Sydney in 1989 when I questioned Montgomerie about his failure to win a full-field tournament outside the European Tour (since he has) and he huffed and puffed and damn near blew the media tent down.

His face reddened and he exploded.

“What about Sun City (in South Africa)?” he demanded.

“Not a full-field event. Sixteen players only,” I replied.

“Well, I would have thought Kiawah Island (in the 1997 World Cup individual trophy). I would have thought 22 under wasn’t bad.”

“Limited field, Colin.”

The visiting British golf writers loved it. Mrs. Doubtfire, as David Feherty nicknamed him, was always good for a quote. Maybe that’s why he is now a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Couples, well, he won the 1992 US Masters and 14 other PGA Tour events. He won three European Tour events.

But, now, Your Honour, let’s present the case for David Graham.

The Dog (David Oswald Graham) won two majors – the 1979 PGA championship and the 1981 US open, the latter with a final round five-under 67 that was so perfect it prompted the great Ben Hogan to ring and congratulate him. Merion is where Hogan won the Open just 18 months after he was nearly killed when his car collided with a bus.

He was six other PGA Tour events and a total of 38 tournaments around the world. He won on six continents with the only other male players to achieve that feat being Hale Irwin, Gary Player and Bernhard Langer. Laura Davies has done it in the women’s game.

Since 2004, he has lived with heart problems but cheerfully he says everything is okay right now.

For forty years now, he has been domiciled in the US and maybe he is the forgotten Australian in the eyes of our golf administrators.

He asks: “Why has PGA of Australia and why has Golf Australia not looked at my record and not made written suggestions to the powers that be of the World Golf Hall of Fame. It’s amazing that those two bodies remain completely silent.”

Well, we put Graham’s question to Golf Australia CEO Stephen Pitt – “My view is we will support it (a recommendation on Graham’s behalf to the WGHOF). I will be in touch with David in the near future and we’ll be very supportive of his nomination,” he said.

PGA of Australia CEO Brian Thorburn said he was in unison with Pitt.

“I will contact the World Golf Hall of Fame and the PGA Tour to advance the case for David becoming a member.”

In the meantime, David Graham looks forward to heading to the Merion outside Philadelphia in Pennsylvania where he won the US Open and where it returns this year to co-host the official dinner with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino who beat Nicklaus in an 18-hole playoff in 1971.

“I think the company in which I am co-host is somewhat incredible. That in itself is an honour and I am looking forward to it. It will be an emotional few days, but it will be enjoyable. Trevino is a very dear friend of mine, there’s no nicer person on the face of this earth,” Graham said.

And, I suggested to him, they both survived the same manager – one Bucky Woy – who took them both to the cleaners back in the 1970s.

“Did you have to mention that?” he groaned.

Peter Stone was chief golf writer for the Sydney Morning Herald for 18 years and has spent 50 years in newspapers before joining Golf.org.au. His views do not necessarily reflect those of Golf Australia. Follow him on Twitter @peterpebbles

22 August 2016
21 August 2016
17 August 2016
15 August 2016
04 August 2016
Golf Australia