Click here to watch the Into The Wildlights Special live from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
“The Memorial Tournament is themed each year around a person, living or dead, who has contributed to the game of golf.”
That statement is taken straight from the Memorial Tournament web site, and serves as the foundation for the event. It’s a unique characteristic for the PGA Tour stop in Central Ohio, and arguably the greatest tradition of the tournament, now in its 38th year.
Go through the list of Memorial Tournament honorees, and it reads like a list of Hall of Famers. Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Hogan, Nelson and Watson are all there.
The 2013 honoree is well-deserving, too, as 1982 Memorial champion Raymond Floyd takes center stage. He joins two-time winners Jack Nicklaus (1977 & 1984) and Tom Watson (1979 & 1996) as the only winners of the Memorial to also be honorees.
Floyd captured 22 PGA Tour titles, spanning an amazing 30 seasons (from 1963 to 1992). He joined Sam Snead as the only players in history to win official PGA Tour events in four different decades. In1992, Floyd was the first player to ever win a PGA Tour and Champions Tour event in the same year.
Floyd won four majors; 1969 PGA Championship, 1976 Masters, 1982 PGA Championship and the 1986 U.S. Open at the age of 44.
Believe it or not, there are still several individuals out there deserving of being honored. Here are a dozen of them, presented in no particular order.
This is strictly a hunch, but the 2014 Memorial Honoree could very well be the late Ken Venturi, who just passed away on May 17th at the age of 82. Venturi, suffering through heat stroke which his doctor warned could be fatal, won the 1964 U.S. Open at parched Congressional. His career was cut short by injuries, but his contribution to golf continued for the next 30-plus years with CBS Sports. Venturi was also a mentor to many younger players and broadcasters.
One player certain to be included someday is Tiger Woods. The only problem is, his career is far from over. However, at the age of 37, he’s already accomplished just about as much as anyone ever. He has a total of 14 majors (second only to Nicklaus’ 18), 78 PGA Tour wins (second only to Snead’s 83) and 105 victories world-wide. Those accomplishments don’t even speak to what Woods has done to increase the popularity of golf, especially with non-traditional golf fans. PGA Tour purses and ratings also exploded in his wake.
There are other active players with the resumes to be honored. Phil Mickelson has 41 PGA Tour titles (49 total as a professional), ninth-most of all-time. That includes four majors, but doesn’t account for his popularity. Perhaps the biggest fan favorite since Arnold Palmer, Lefty’s “aw-shucks” ways resonate with the common man.
2004 Memorial winner Ernie Els also has four majors, which accompanies 65 worldwide wins (18 on the PGA Tour). He won his most recent major at the 2012 British Open at the age of 42, which is 18 years after his first, the 1994 U.S. Open. The South African was a pioneer in playing both the European and PGA Tours at the same time, helping to open up the other side of the pond to American golf fans.
Nearly 20 years ago, golf was dominated by a couple of golfers from the Southern Hemisphere. Australia’s Greg Norman has spent more time ranked number one in the world than any other golfer except Tiger Woods. He has 89 career professional victories, including 20 on the PGA Tour (two at The Memorial). He had two major victories, and with a little luck might have won the Grand Slam in 1986. His popularity has spawned a new generation of golfers from “Down Under”, like Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley, just to name a few.
No one was hotter in 1993-94 than New Zealand’s Nick Pirce. The captain for the International side in October’s President’s Cup at Muirfield Village, Price won three of nine majors from the PGA Championships in 1992 through ’94. He claimed 18 PGA Tour titles, and 50 worldwide victories, and is considered one of the purest ball-strikers the game has ever seen.
From the women’s game, Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam deserves strong consideration. She racked up 72 LPGA wins—third most all-time—and 93 career victories before retiring from competitive golf at the age of 38. She also won an astonishing 10 majors in just a 12-year span from 1995 through 2006. She’s the only woman to shoot a 59 in competition, and in 2003 became the first female to play in a PGA Tour event when she teed it up at The Colonial.
Chi Chi Rodriguez may have only won eight PGA Tour events, but the Puerto Rican took home 22 Champions Tour titles, and his electric style and antics were perfect for the senior circuit. In the late 1980’s, he gave golfers life after 50 by popularizing the Senior Tour.
Of course, on the course shouldn’t be the only way for an individual to be honored. Former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman was a fine amateur player, winning the U.S. Amateur twice, and the British Amateur once. He was no slouch as a professional, with four career PGA Tour titles to his credit. Beman’s real contribution, though, came as commissioner of the Tour from 1974 through 1994. He introduced the Players Championship event and guided it to arguably the most important non-major event of the year. Under his watch, the PGA Tour became big business, one that golfers could make a comfortable living by just playing golf. He also was responsible for creating the (now) Champions Tour as well as the (now) Buy.com Tour, and started the franchises of TPC golf courses around the country. Beman’s time as Memorial Tournament honoree is coming, and probably sooner than later.
Before the Miami Heat had the “big three” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the “big three” in golf were Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. Mark McCormack formed what would become the sports marketing giant IMG in Cleveland, which represented all three golfers at one time in the 1960’s. McCormack played golf at William and Mary, where he crossed paths with Palmer (who played at Wake Forest). The game of golf exploded in the 60’s (thanks to those three) and golfers became marketable on Madison Avenue. McCormack was also instrumental in the creation of World Match Play Championships and Skins Game, as well as the creation of the World Golf Rankings.
On the course, off the course, what about those who design the courses? While no one yet has been honored exclusively for his design work, it’s hard to argue that Pete Dye and Robert Trent Jones, Sr. haven’t contributed greatly to the game of golf.
Dye designed or co-designed over 80 courses worldwide, including the Golf Club and Little Turtle here in Central Ohio. Crooked Stick, Harbor Town, TPC Sawgrass, Kiawah Island and Whistling Straits are other signature works. Jack Nicklaus, a renowned course designer in his own rights, has said that Dye was a major influence on him. The pair worked together on The Golf Club and Harbor Town.
Jones can be considered the Johnny Appleseed of golf, having designed or re-designed nearly 500 courses in 40 states and 35 other countries. Locally, he designed Raymond Memorial, while re-designing the former Winding Hollow Country Club, now known as Champions. Some of his more famous creations include Hazeltine, Broadmoor and Spyglass Hill, while lending his touch to re-design projects at Firestone South, Congressional, Oakland Hills, Baltusrol, Olympic Club, Oak Hill and even Augusta National.
If you make it out to The Memorial Tournament or the President’s Cup in the fall, do yourself a favor and check out Memorial Park. There are plaques commemorating all the honorees, and it’s a beautiful spot, with lovely flowers and plants. It’s located on the other side of the clubhouse from the 18th green, near the practice putting green and the first tee.