King got a bubbly welcome from fellow Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan.
Don't let anybody tell you Betsy King didn't feel pressure
to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame. On Sunday the weight of
the Hall on her back was so great that her drive on the first
tee at the ShopRite LPGA Classic traveled 20 yards. Sixty feet.
She could probably throw her Hall of Fame plaque that far -- and
she may feel like it, after the hell the Hall has put her
through these last 20 months.
For those who don't follow these hazing rituals, the 39-year-old
King had spent her previous 41 tournaments trying to nail down
the 30th win of her professional career -- an arbitrary number
established almost 30 years ago as the minimum required for
entry into the LPGA Hall of Fame, assuming the golfer has also
won at least two major championships and written thank-you notes
for all gifts received since the seventh grade. Until she
tripped on the Hall's threshold, King had won two or three
tournaments a year, and nobody had ever felt sorry for her.
Funny what contrived failure can do to a star. Makes you wonder
how Babe Ruth would have done if, at the age of 39, he had been
told he needed 10 more homers to get into Cooperstown.
All that foolishness ended for King on Sunday. One shot out of
the lead when she practically whiffed on number 1, King shot a
final-round 67 at Greate Bay Resort and Country Club in Somers
Point, N.J., and finished two shots ahead of Beth Daniel and
Rosie Jones. Regrettably, what should have been the crowning
achievement of her career occurred in an untelevised event. Only
a few hundred spectators got to see her make birdie putts of 14
and 12 feet on the last two holes. "It's exciting, but I am just
happy that I don't have to deal with it anymore," King said. "I
felt it was a little unfair that whenever I was close to the
lead people would ask about the Hall."
A little unfair? The worst part of the current Hall of Fame
qualifying process is that it trivializes its honorees. Never
mind that King is a three-time LPGA Player of the Year, a
two-time Vare Trophy winner, a three-time Solheim Cup player, a
winner of five major championships and the alltime LPGA Tour
money winner -- she gets into the Hall for winning the ShopRite
Classic? Say it's not ludicrous.
King, one must add, is the least trivial of golf champions.
Other winners buy cars and clothes; King comforts Romanian
orphans. Other stars complain about paying taxes; King pounds
nails for Habitat for Humanity. Other Hall of Famers talk of
their exploits; King makes listeners squirm with her religious
fervor and antiabortion views.
Nothing illustrates the distinction better than an incident that
went virtually unreported at the 1990 Dinah Shore Championship
in Rancho Mirage, Calif. On the final day King held a five-shot
lead with eight holes left, but wild drives and a shaky putter
began to take their toll. When she missed a two-foot putt on the
16th green, her lead over Kathy Postlewait had shrunk to two
strokes. Walking up the hill through the crowd to the 17th tee,
King looked flushed and uncomfortable. At that worst possible
moment, a slender man in a baseball cap with JESUS on it yelled
"Hallelujah!" and appeared at her side. Breaking her
concentration, the man poured religiosity into her ear until
marshals stopped him and ushered him behind the ropes. Minutes
later King hit a weak iron shot on the par-3 and had to struggle
for her final two pars and ultimate victory.
Asked about the distraction afterward, King got that distant
look in her bottomless blue eyes. "It was O.K.," she said. "I've
run into him before, and he's very sincere in his beliefs."
If there were perfect justice, the doors of the Hall of Fame
would have sprung open for King at that very moment. Instead,
she had to wait five more years for the honor.
It is an honor, isn't it? If not, if the LPGA Hall is just a
glorified frequent-fliers club, then we can merely shrug and let
it go. But if the Hall is to have lasting significance, the LPGA
needs to stop counting miles and simply acknowledge the women
who have made the journey worthwhile. Betsy King is one of those
women -- and was before Sunday.