Look into David Graham’s eyes and you begin to understand. For so long he has waited for this day, and now that it has finally arrived, he can’t possibly hide what it means to him.
“It’s been a long, long journey,” he said, and then his eyes told you so much more. They are tired eyes, the eyes of a man who has lived nearly 70 years, traveled the world and weathered the pressures of a difficult but rewarding game. But they glisten. Not with sadness, nor even happiness, but with satisfaction and pride.
Not often does a career, any career in any endeavor, culminate in such a gloriously permanent fashion than when an athlete is enshrined in their sport’s hall of fame. Monday, within a stone’s throw of the Old Course at St. Andrews, Graham realized such an honor when he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame along with fellow 2015 class members Laura Davies, Mark O’Meara and A.W. Tillinghast.
All four honorees are rightfully being celebrated for their remarkable accomplishments. Graham won the 1979 PGA Championship and 1981 U.S. Open among 20-plus worldwide titles. O’Meara, at 41, won the Masters and British Open in 1998, 19 years after his breakthrough triumph in the 1979 U.S. Amateur. Davies is a four-time major winner whose 1987 U.S. Women’s Open title came in a playoff over future Hall of Famers JoAnne Gunderson Carner and Ayako Okamoto. Their credentials are beyond worthy for enshrinement.
The same is true of Tillinghast, a pioneering golf course architect with more than 100 layouts to his credit – 24 of his original designs have been the site for 53 USGA championships. Born in 1874, Albert Warren Tillinghast also was a writer, an original member of the PGA of America, and he was an ardent supporter of the USGA’s Green Section in the 1930s, when its mission to improve agronomic practices was nearly ended due to budget constraints during the Great Depression.
This year’s class is the first to be inducted abroad, one of several initiatives by the World Golf Foundation intended to elevate awareness of the Hall of Fame, located in St. Augustine, Fla.
“I’ve been speaking with David about this day for about the last eight years,” O’Meara said. “We both talked about it several times, and I saw that the induction ceremony in 2015 was going to be here at the Home of Golf at St. Andrews … and David had said to me, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we both got the call at the same time and we could go into the Hall together?’ And sure enough it happened. I can’t think of a better place.”
Of course, it’s not the place, or even the time, but the moment itself that matters, for it transfers a player’s accomplishments into something eternal. Crossing the threshold into the Hall of Fame brings a player in touch with golfers of other eras, and it’s that association that is, as Graham said, “the icing on the cake, to use a cliché.”
Davies was unable to attend Monday’s press conference, as she was en route to her native Great Britain. She has a valid excuse: she was too busy competing in the U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club on Sunday, shooting 7-over 287 to finish in a tie for 47th place.
It’s one thing to be linked to Old Tom Morris, Bob Jones, Ben Hogan, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Arnold Palmer, Nancy Lopez or Jack Nicklaus through a common love for and preeminence in the game. It’s another to share a locker in golf’s ultimate clubhouse for the rest of recorded history.
Both Graham and O’Meara acknowledged as much, and the specialness of keeping company, as it were, with their idols. For O’Meara, he couldn’t help but think of Nicklaus and Palmer. And, he added, “I turned pro in 1980 in Ben Hogan’s office. I share a locker at Augusta with Gene Sarazen.”
Graham thought of the Big Three – Palmer, Nicklaus and Gary Player – and how he met each of them and how each befriended him. “I think they impacted my life the most,” he acknowledged.
He also marveled at Palmer and Peter Thomson, the five-time British Open winner, making the trip to St. Andrews for the induction ceremony.
“I think what’s really incredible is that is an example of how much they love St. Andrews and how much they love the game, and you realize how much they’ve contributed to it,” he said.
He had to catch himself again.
“When you get older, you get more emotional,” said Graham, 69, a native of Australia, who turned professional at 16 and played competitively through 2004, when he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. “It’s the end of your career.”
The end? Well, the end of the journey. The career goes on. But in another form entirely. It is transcended, for it is not people who are enshrined, but spirits, really. They are the spirits of the game.
“It’s the ultimate,” said O’Meara, 58, whose career took a dramatic turn when he welcomed a new regular practice partner in 1996: Tiger Woods. “Every young person when they start this game loves the game of golf. And we play for our pride. Pride is a great motivating factor, and sometimes in golf, you never take enough time to really appreciate maybe what’s transpired in your career.”
And then there was that look. O’Meara’s eyes softened just a little.
“It will be a little bit emotional,” he allowed. “Our careers have been a long time coming.”
And after tonight’s ceremony, they will be long remembered, too.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work regularly appears on USGA websites.