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Hall of Fame CEO defends selection policy

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By Reuters
Hall of Fame CEO defends selection policy
FILE PHOTO: Tom Weiskopf of the U.S. plays at the seventh tee of the Loch Lomond Golf Club before the start of the Scottish Open golf championship, in Loch Lomond, UK, July 7, 2004. REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/File Photo   -   Copyright  Jeff J Mitchell(Reuters)

(Reuters) – World Golf Hall of Fame chief executive Steve Mona has defended the organisation’s selection process amid criticism that some of the sport’s best players have yet to be inducted.

The Hall recently announced the five new members of the class of 2019, a group that includes twice U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen and former Masters chairman Billy Payne.

Still awaiting the nod are the likes of British Open champions Tony Lema and Tom Weiskopf, as well as Macdonald Smith, one of the best players between the two world wars.

“I did my curmudgeonly best not to let my blood boil when I read the list of Hall Of Fame inductees for 2019,” tweeted Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, arguing Lema, Weiskopf and Smith all deserved inclusion.

Mona does not vote on the inductees — a task that falls to a panel of 16 headed by retired greats Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Annika Sorenstam and Nancy Lopez — but he points out that the vote will always be somewhat subjective.

“It’s not just strictly (based) on playing record,” he told Reuters.

“The Fame element is part of it. Some people were just more popular than others when they were on tour.”

Lema has been on the list of nominees in the past, and could be again in the future, Mona said.

“I would say people who are deserving over time get in because we have this veterans category for people who are missed at some point,” Mona said.

“I can’t make predictions but the window has not closed on Tony Lema or Tom Weiskopf.”

Even two former PGA Tour players turned golf historians cannot agree on whether Lema and Weiskopf should be in.

Lema won the 1964 British Open at St Andrews, as well as 11 PGA Tour events in the United States, before being killed in a plane crash in 1966 at the age of 32.

Weiskopf won the 1973 Open at Royal Troon, one of 16 PGA Tour titles, before becoming a renowned golf course architect.

While Chamblee passionately believes both should be in, Bill Mallon thinks otherwise.

“I think both Weiskopf and Lema are two marginal candidates, although both are two of my favourite players,” Mallon told Reuters.

“Of the two, I think Weiskopf has a better resume for inclusion but that is certainly only because of the plane crash (that killed Lema). Not sure how the voters would figure that in.”

One historic figure that both agree on is Scottish-born American Smith, who won 24 times on the PGA Tour in the 1920s and 30s, the most victories by an eligible player not in the Hall of Fame.

Smith, however, never won a major, even though he had numerous close calls at the U.S. and British Opens.

Joining Goosen and Payne in the Class of 2019 are LPGA trailblazer Jan Stephenson, LPGA charter member Peggy Kirk Bell and disabled trick shot artist Dennis Walters.

Inductions occur every second year, and only five people can be inducted at once, a policy Mallon deems as too arbitrary.

Under a selection process revamped four years ago, a nominee needs at least 75 percent of the vote from the selection commission.

Fred Couples and Colin Montgomerie were elected with barely 50 percent of the vote in 2013 under the previous system, which had a voting panel of nearly 300.

Mona insisted the selection process is good, and that the lack of “black and white” criteria is a positive.

“The process is superior to what we had previously,” he said.

“I think the debate is healthy.”

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ian Chadband)