By Ann Liguori
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The World Golf Hall of Fame inductions were held in New York City for the first time ever Tuesday.
The ceremony was held at Cipriani Wall Street in a historic, architecturally ornate building with a Wedgwood dome that once was the home of the New York Merchants Exchange, the New York Stock Exchange, the United States Customs House and the headquarters of the National City Bank.
A record number of Hall of Famers, owners of 159 major championships in total, from Jack Nicklaus, Kathy Whitworth and Nancy Lopez to Gary Player, Annika Sorenstam and Mark O’Meara, gathered to support this year’s five inductees: Meg Mallon, Ian Woosnam, the late Henry Longhurst, Lorena Ochoa and Davis Love III.
Ty Voltaw, the former LPGA commissioner and executive vice president of global business affairs for the PGA Tour, introduced Mallon, who earned 18 career LPGA Tour victories and four major championships. She was a member of nine Solheim Cup teams and captained the 2013 team.
Looking back on her 23-year professional career, Mallon, 54, warmed the audience with her genuine and friendly demeanor and her stories of what the game was like in her early days.
“We were constantly being told what we’re not, instead of what we were,” Mallon recalled. “What we are, are the best damn LPGA Tour players in the world! Yes, we had some difficult times … but when I stand here and think of our future, I can’t be more proud of the LPGA and what we stand for.”
The legendary Gary Player introduced Woosnam, 59, of Wales. “Woosie” won 52 events, including the 1991 Masters, and was ranked No. 1 in the world for 50 weeks in 1991 and 1992. He represented Europe on eight straight Ryder Cup teams from 1983-97.
John Hopkins, senior columnist for the Global Golf Post, got the audience to yell three “hip hip hoorays” for Longhurst of Britain, who wrote a weekly column for the London Sunday Times for 40 years and was the first golf TV personality for the BBC from the 1950s until his death in 1978.
“He Invented the golf column,” Hopkins said. “His columns were ripe with wisdom and humor. … With a microphone pressed against his lips, he was a delight to listen to.”
Hall of Famer Juli Inkster introduced Ochoa, 35, the first Mexican-born golfer to enter the World Golf Hall of Fame. Ochoa earned 27 LPGA Tour victories, including two majors, dominating in a three-year stretch and winning 21 times from 2006-08. She was ranked No. 1 in the world for 158 straight weeks from 2007-10. Ochoa retired at the young age of 28 to pursue other interests and work on her foundation, providing opportunities for children and adults in health, fitness, education and inclusion programs through golf activities.
Hall of Famer Tom Kite presented Love, who earned 22 victories, including the 1997 PGA Championship and two victories at the Players Championship. He was a member of six U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, captaining two Ryder Cup squads, including during last year’s win at Hazeltine. This week, Love is one of four assistant captain of the Presidents Cup team at Liberty National in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“This is golf’s ultimate club … and this induction into the Hall of Fame is the greatest honor of my life,” said Love as he held his granddaughter and spoke of his father and grandfather, both golf professionals.
The World Golf Hall of Fame decided to move the induction ceremony around the world a few years ago.
“This is the second time we conducted the ceremony outside of Florida,” said Jack Peter, the Hall of Fame’s president. “Two years ago, we were at the Open Championship at St. Andrews … and in two years, we’ll be out in Pebble Beach to kick off the U.S. Open.”
Seems like their strategy is working. It was the biggest turnout of Hall of Famers, in a glamorous venue, in front of a global audience, televised live on The Golf Channel.
It was a lovely induction program, with a touching tribute to the great Arnold Palmer, who died almost exactly a year ago. And the evening served as a huge promotion for the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum, based in St. Augustine, Florida. Check it out. It’s worth the visit.
Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori