By Mark Hayes of Golf Australia at St Andrews
ONE of Australian golf’s legends was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in St Andrews overnight – and not before time.
An emotional David Graham joined Mark O’Meara, Laura Davies and late American course architect Albert Tillinghast as the 2015 inductees, bringing the total number of honourees to 150.
Graham’s remarkable career was finally given due recognition at the home of golf with his stellar resume — most famously including the 1979 US PGA and 1981 US Open championships – easily befitting the new WGHOF criteria.
The 69-year-old openly admitted he thought recognition of his 38 worldwide victories had passed him by.
And for the first time publicly, he speculated that his time as a “man without a country” might have cost him one of the sport’s highest honours.
“I wasn’t in Australia any more (at the height of my career). I was playing in America, but I was still an international player, and so I don’t know whether that had anything to do with the imbalance of what the requirement was,” said the former Melburnian who now splits his time between Texas and Montana.
“Like Bruce Devlin (and) Bruce Crampton, we all made decisions that some people said we defected (from) our country. Well, I never defected. I just left to go somewhere else so I could make a living.
“It had nothing to do with love of country. But I was always an Australian in America, and then when I went to Australia, now I was too much of an American, so I don’t know whether that had anything to do with it or not.”
Graham — watched by his wife Maureen, their sons Andrew and Michael and a swag of family and friends — and fellow Hall of Fame members Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin and Gary Player are the only men to have won professional events on six different continents.
He remains the only Aussie to have won two different major championships and won the 1970 World Cup alongside Devlin.
Graham has for several years battled a life-threatening heart condition, limiting his travel.
But he maintained that a lack of cash as a young pro was his chief reason for not basing himself in Australia and perhaps leaving him without the kudos his feats have deserved at home.
“That was just not financially practical or physically feasible,” said Graham, who turned pro at 16 having first taught himself to play with an available left-handed club and then being switched back to the right by Melbourne pro George Naismith.
“I most likely would have not even continued my career as a player because you can’t go through Asia and Europe and make a living out of it.
“So the fact that we didn’t have children (in the early 1970s) meant that my wife and I could just move to America, and it was the only established Tour.
“I had on and off years, but then when I won the PGA, I got a 10-year exemption, so now you can do things like let’s start a family, let’s buy a house, let’s figure out where our kids are going to go to school and make plans for what you want.
“And then the more plans you put into the ground, the more permanent those decisions become and, in those days, I had people write about me that I was a traitor, I left my country, I wasn’t a good Australian.
“I (just) moved to America and all this kind of crap that people don’t even discuss any more. I have absolutely no regrets doing what I did.
“I wouldn’t be here tonight if I had not have made that choice.
“But now people can have the ability to make that choice. They can play two or three weeks in Europe. They can jump on a plane. And if it’s not their plane, they can travel first class, and it’s five or six hours away,” he joked.
But the semantics of previous Hall of Fame voting decisions, widely regarded by most in the golf community as thinly veiled popularity contests, mattered little to Graham tonight.
O’Meara, like Graham a very well travelled pro, paid tribute to his fellow honouree, whose feats aren’t widely known among the newest generation of golf fans.
“When I came on the (US PGA Tour in 1981), I obviously knew David Graham, but I will tell you that this man … throughout my career … was a role model for me,” said O’Meara, himself a dual major and Australian Masters champion.
“I’ve heard things (such as), `He’s really tough, he’s mean, he’s all this crap’.
“But look, I saw David as a great competitor and a friend of mine who helped me, because I as a young American player, I played a lot more abroad than most other young American players.
“And that is why it’s the World Golf Hall of Fame. Golf is a global game, and it’s become more global because of players like David Graham, because of Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros (and) Gary Player.
“At one time they didn’t play much in the United States. They came over for the majors and everything, but then they started to, and David made his home base in America, because he knew that was the best Tour to play and compete on.
“It’s humbling and a great experience to be alongside him in this year’s inductees, for sure.”
Graham said it was a “tremendous honour” to join the who’s who of world golf, but said he was moved most to have his name mentioned alongside the “big three” of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
Graham regaled with stories of his first interactions with the trio as they made regular starts in the Australian Open in the 1960s and ‘70s.
“When you look back and you think about what the big three did globally for the game, when travelling was not that pleasurable. I mean, I walked into the locker room on a Tuesday afternoon in I think 1971 at Royal Hobart Golf Club in Tasmania, and I bumped right into Jack Nicklaus,” he said with clear reverence for the Golden Bear.
“Can you imagine (the logistics of) living in Palm Beach, Florida, and getting to Tasmania to play in the Australian Open in 1971?
“Jack Nicklaus did that in 1971, and he won by a gazillion shots.
“Gary Player won seven Australian Opens — you talk about a man who travelled and promoted the game. Nicklaus won six Australian Opens. At the height of his career, he still went to Australia each November.
“Arnold won an Australian Open and won a Wills Masters but still came dozens of times,” said Graham, himself the 1977 Australian champion.
“I remember one day at Victoria, it was pouring with rain … there were a whole bunch of people upstairs in this clubhouse, had these beautiful plate-glass windows and it overlooked the 18th green down to where the practice fairway was, and there was one person on the practice fairway with his rain suit on, with his bag, his caddie out there.
“This guy walked past a group of people at the table and said, `Who’s that idiot out there hitting practice balls?’ and somebody turned around and said, `That idiot is Gary Player’ and then said, `How do you think you’re going to beat him if you’re sitting in the clubhouse and he’s out there practising?’.
“That impacted me, so what did I do? I went and got my clubs, put on my rain suit and started practising. I started a conversation with Gary Player.
“Nicklaus walked into the locker room at Hobart and said, `Do you want to play nine?’. I was like, ‘Me??? Yeah, sure’ and we went out and played the back nine at Royal Hobart.
“I was on the putting green at Metropolitan when Arnold Palmer was there. He had six putters, he had his bag, a great, big leather bag … and Arnold Palmer walks over and says, `I’ve never played here, do you want to play with me and show me the course?’. I go, `Me??? Yeah, sure’.
“This is in Australia when I’m like 21 years of age. I think they impacted my (golfing) life the most.”