PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The candidates are introduced one at a time, along with a list of their accomplishments to support why they belong in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Except for Tiger Woods.
There was nothing to say that hasn’t been seen or at least talked about. There was no debate. His election was unanimous.
Jon Rahm wasn’t part of the committee that selected the Class of 2022 that was to be inducted Wednesday night. His reaction to the inevitable spoke for everyone in golf who witnessed Woods win at a historic rate and leave an imprint on the game measured in money and prestige for him and everyone who followed.
“What can I say about Tiger that we haven’t said already?” Rahm said. “He inspired a whole generation. Besides entertaining all of us for 20 years and doing unbelievable things, he inspired the generation of players that you’re seeing today.”
Woods was the headliner Wednesday in an induction class that fittingly included Tim Finchem, the retired PGA Tour commissioner who parlayed the powerful effect of Woods with astronomical increases in prize money and a tour that became the destination for players around the world.
Also being inducted were three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Susie Maxwell Berning and the late Marion Hollins, the first woman to develop golf courses and a former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and Curtis Cup captain.
The ceremony was moved from the World Golf Village, which held previous ceremonies in Florida, to the new PGA Tour headquarters located about a mile away from where Woods first rose to fame.
Sure, there was the appearance on the Mike Douglas Show when he was a 2-year-old prodigy, and the three straight U.S. Junior Amateur titles. It was on the island green on the par-3 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass in the 1994 U.S. Amateur when Woods first delivered the uppercut that would define his celebration.
That was the first of an unprecedented three straight U.S. Amateur titles, and it only got better.
His record is so strong that Woods had three Hall of Fame careers in one. After four full years as a pro, he already had the career Grand Slam and 24 victories on the PGA Tour. The first major was the 1997 Masters, which he won by 12, one of 20 records.
When he was 30, he already had 46 wins on tour and 10 majors, including a sweep of the majors, a feat no one had ever accomplished.
Woods now has a record-tying 82 wins on the PGA Tour, along with 15 majors, three behind the gold standard set by Jack Nicklaus.
More than his wins was his influence.
Woods never wanted to be looked upon as a golfer but rather an athlete. He wasn’t the first to find the gym, but his devotion to strength and fitness created a template for others to follow.
“Tiger changed people’s perception of golf from a game to a sport,” Padraig Harrington said.
If players were too young to remember the first Masters win, they remember the iconic chip-in when he won at Augusta National in 2005, or the time he won his third U.S. Open title at Torrey Pines despite playing with a double stress fracture in his left leg and a knee with shredded ligaments that required reconstructive surgery a week later.
“He created what golf is today,” Xander Schauffele.
The Players Championship prize fund this week is $20 million, and that’s not lost on the players in the field. The entire purse was $3.5 million in 1997 when Woods made his debut. The winner this week gets $3.6 million.
Woods’ popularity, his showmanship, was so great that Finchem was able to turn that into television contracts that sent purses soaring.
“His impact on the game is probably the most profound of anybody ever, especially the pro game,” said Patrick Cantlay, who won $15 million last year by capturing the FedEx Cup. “I wouldn’t say I know enough about (Arnold) Palmer or Bobby Jones or Nicklaus to say how they impacted that at the time. But I think every pro out here owes a debt of gratitude to Tiger because this sport wouldn’t be where it is today without his impact.”
Finchem also created the World Golf Championships events, and a Presidents Cup to give the burgeoning group of international players from outside Europe a chance to compete in team matches. And he kept the PGA Tour strong with sponsors during the recession of 2008, which coincided with Woods recovering from knee surgery.
Maxwell Berning won only 11 times on the LPGA Tour, but she played in an era when juggling family and golf led to short careers.
She won the U.S. Women’s Open three times — only five others have won at least three — in a six-year span. She also won the Women’s Western Open, a major in her era.
Hollins financed and developed a golf course for women in New York and was the brains behind two fabled golf courses in California — Cypress Point and Pasatiempo. Hollins, who died in 1944 at age 51, was a visionary in golf course architecture, a confidante of Alister Mackenzie and a U.S. Women’s Amateur champion.