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The Hall of Fame outing could follow in a similar way. You could invite every member and have each bring a playing partner. You could have deceased Hall of Famers represented by descendants. You could invite all of the former winners of the Players. How cool would it be to have K.J. Choi and Phil Mickelson and Al Geiberger in the field? Last-place money could be $5,000. Second-place money could be $5,000. First-place money could be $6,000. Money will draw in some of the legends. A true golfing get-together is an even more powerful incentive. That's because the thing getting lost in all the noise around modern golf is ... golf.
Finchem is reminded of that from time to time. On Tuesday of tournament week, Woods, who becomes eligible for Hall of Fame induction in 2016, when he's 40, was hitting balls on the back of the range at the Stadium course. Finchem was watching. Corey Pavin came around. Woods was hitting fading and drawing five-irons around a tree. "It was impressive," Finchem said. "It's always impressive when you see these guys hit shots." (He saw no signs of injury.) Pavin, naturally, as a fellow pro, was less impressed. The former U.S. Open winner pointed to a V in the center of the tree and challenged Woods to hit it through the uprights. "It's about two feet wide," Finchem said. The commissioner is not prone to hyperbole. He made a through-the-air karate chop. Tiger's first five-iron was all air. Yep, these guys are good. Human, too. Tiger proved that on Thursday morning.
And that's really the point of making the Hall of Fame induction a big part of Players week and having a great event to kick it off. The golfers are human. Talk too much about sand saves and you can forget that. When you hear about the $100,000 gift that Choi made to the Japanese earthquake relief effort, you're reminded that he's not a golfing machine but a man with heart. If you hear him talk about how he learned golf from Nicklaus's Golf My Way, or his time in the South Korean military, the same. Golf generates stories and conversation like no other sport. That's why the World Golf Hall of Fame is so loaded with potential. Connecting the Players to its annual induction ceremony (when there are worthy people to induct) could only be a good thing. How cool would it be to have Mickey Wright and Jack Nicklaus in a room together comparing notes on the pressure of winning a U.S. Open? Very damn cool.
Setting, of course, is critical. The two courses connected to the Hall of Fame and a massive housing development called the World Golf Village—King & Bear and Slammer & Squire—are perfectly nice courses but not anything that will get your juices flowing. No, the Hall of Fame golf day will need something more like the ancient grass courts in Newport. Timuquana, a Donald Ross time capsule in Jacksonville, a course that David Fay, late of the USGA, calls a "sipping whiskey" course, might be ideal for the event. Here's your day: Golf in the morning. A luncheon on the beach. (Literally on the beach. The beach in Ponte Vedra Beach tends to get lost.) The induction ceremony that night in St. Augustine. Let Goalby emcee the thing. He'll kill. Nice day, don't you think?
Before long, players will be clamoring for invitations and the public for tickets. Don't worry about the press coverage and whether it makes money. The press will come and sponsors will too. Take a page from W.P. Kinsella, the baseball novelist: If you build it, they will come. Yes, there's a grand thing called the Ballroom at the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown, where Ted Williams and Bob Feller used to compare notes. But does it have, as the World Golf Village does, a Murray Brothers Caddyshack?
As for the new winner, he didn't know there was a World Golf Hall of Fame until he joined the Tour. Choi wondered how many majors a player has to win to get in and what the voting procedure is. A lot of Hall of Fame voters would like to know the same thing. Getting in, he said, would be a dream: "It says you are a role model and have contributed to the legacy of the game." Actually, Choi is already a role model and part of the legacy of the game. Now he's even more so. Maybe someday one of his fat-gripped putters will wind up at the World Golf Village. The drive there from Ponte Vedra Beach can take years, as it should. Choi's fine with that. He's built for the long haul.
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