Time to change minimum age for golf HOF

April, 23, 2009
04/23/09
6:06
AM ET

Congratulations to Lanny Wadkins and Jose Maria Olazabal.

Both men have enjoyed Hall of Fame careers and the announcement of Wadkins' election and reports of Olazabal's selection into the World Golf HOF should be considered well-deserved culminations of hard-earned efforts.

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And yet, they are only partially correct. Allow me to explain.

In the case of Wadkins, 59, his playing days are long over. He won't be adding to the 21 career PGA Tour victories and one major championship title (1977 PGA Championship) on his résumé. In fact, Wadkins will compete in just his second Champions Tour event of the season at this week's Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, after being hampered by recent back and finger injuries, making him as "retired" as most golfers ever become -- the perfect candidate to receive HOF consideration.

Olazabal, on the other hand, is another matter. Though he's been a full-timer on the European Tour since 1986, the 43-year-old Ollie -- injuries notwithstanding -- still has plenty of competitive golf left to play in his career. For proof, we need only look back to Sunday, when he finished in a share of sixth place at the Verizon Heritage.

Truth is, Olazabal has set a goal of making the European Ryder Cup team for an eighth time next year; if he can avoid a recurrence of the rheumatoid polyarthritis that has plagued him throughout his career, he just might succeed in reaching that goal.

Doesn't exactly sound like a player who's ready to hang up the soft spikes while waxing poetic about the good ol' days, does it?

In other sports, a player on the downside of his career remains years away from ever thinking about the proposition of making a Hall of Fame speech. Shaquille O'Neal is a lock to be inducted into the Basketball HOF; Randy Johnson is a surefire selection to the Baseball HOF. Neither of those players will receive such accolades, though, until at least five years after his official retirement.

That's hardly the case in golf. With the current age minimum of 40, players like Olazabal are well within the restrictions for inclusion into the Hall of Fame.

Granted, professional golfers don't retire so easily, but the World Golf HOF should follow the lead of other sports and wait for a point in their careers where they are no longer competitive on the world's most elite tours. Complicating the issue is the fact that 40 is the new 30 in golf -- and older guys can still beat up on the young whippersnappers every so often.

In his first start after turning 50, Tom Lehman was the 54-hole leader at last month's Transitions Championship before finishing T-8. A few weeks later, Fred Couples, 49, owned the same distinction at the Shell Houston Open, eventually taking a share of third place. And no one is a greater example than Kenny Perry, who has won four titles since his 47th birthday and nearly became the oldest major champion in history at the Masters recently.

To further understand the folly that is the early election process of the WGHOF, we need only examine the tale of Vijay Singh. Coming off a two-year period during which he won a baker's dozen PGA Tour titles, Singh was elected into the Hall in 2005, but instead chose to delay his induction ceremony by a year due to a prior overseas playing engagement.

Hmmm … when was the last time we saw an athlete in another sport forgo induction in order to compete in that sport instead? Can't imagine it's ever happened before.

This leaves two potential solutions to fix this apparent problem for the WGHOF.

The first is to steal a page from the LPGA, which inducts players based on a points system. (Each victory is worth one Hall of Fame point, a major championship is two points and Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy honors are one point each.) It doesn't exactly favor my argument, though; really, it's quite the opposite. Based on this system, Lorena Ochoa earned HOF honors last year at age 26 and will be inducted in 2012 after reaching the 10-year eligibility requirement.

The other answer is more equitable in that many of the current requirements can remain intact. Simply put: Raise the eligibility age. Make it 50 or -- even better -- 55, ensuring that most players wouldn't still be adding to their résumés while already HOF members.

Again, this isn't about whether the likes of Jose Maria Olazabal should be enshrined or not; it's about when he should be considered for such an honor.

In a sport synonymous with patience, the World Golf Hall of Fame should practice this art when it comes to making players eligible for membership.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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