What follows are the transcripts of the conference call on Wednesday, Oct. 15 to announce Laura Davies, David Graham, Mark O’Meara and A.W. Tillinghast as the members of the Class of 2015. Davies, Graham and O’Meara participated in the call.
TRAVIS HILL: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the class of 2015 conference call. Appreciate you all joining in. This is Travis Hill with the Hall of Fame. We’ve got all three of our new Hall of Fame members on the line: Mark O’Meara, Laura Davies and David Graham. Before we open the floor for questions, I’m going to give it to Jack Peter, our chief operating officer, to make a brief statement.
JACK PETER: Well, thank you, Travis, and good morning, everyone. I first of all would like to offer our heartfelt congratulations to Laura Davies, Mark O’Meara, David Graham and the late A.W. Tillinghast. I think this is a very strong class, and it’s a pleasure to welcome you all into the Hall of Fame family. As many of you on the line know, it’s been a very big year for the Hall of Fame. We’ve had a number of announcements. This class represents the first in a new process, changes in the new era of the Hall of Fame. Going back to last March at Bay Hill when we announced we were going to go to an every other year schedule and have the candidates selected by a selection commission chaired by Hall of Fame members, and we think the process held up very well. We couldn’t be more pleased.
Additionally, the announcement that we made during Ryder Cup week that we will be conducting the 2015 ceremony the Monday of The Open Championship at the University of St. Andrews has been phenomenally received around the world and the golf universe. It makes me wonder why we didn’t do that years ago.
But be that as it may, it’s been a great year, and it culminates with the announcement today, and again, I want to offer my congratulations to Laura, Mark and David, and appreciate everybody on the media side for being on the call with us today, and with that, I’ll turn it back over to Travis and the multipoint group and we’ll start to take questions.
Q. This question is for Mark and then David. The two of you won your two majors under some kind of similar circumstances. Mark, at the Masters you beat out a leaderboard that had three or four other major champions and that was a day Jack made his run, and then difficult conditions at the British Open, and David, you won your majors at two of the most difficult golf courses in major championship history in Merion and Oakland Hills. I’d like you to talk about the satisfaction of winning those two majors under those kind of conditions.
MARK O’MEARA: Well, listen, you’re right. Listen, any time you have a chance or you’re in contention to win a major championship, you know, you’re nervous, you’re trying to get the job done, realize the importance of major championships, and for me at 41, late in my career, I don’t think anybody expected me to do something like that, and really to be honest, including myself.
Yeah, at Augusta coming down the stretch, Fred Couples, David Duval, Furyk, Nicklaus, getting off to a good start on Sunday morning. There was a lot of excitement in the air. It’s the first major of the year, Augusta National and the Masters, and I remember playing there as an amateur in 1980, and then 18 years later, there I was on the 18th green on Sunday afternoon with a putt and a chance to win, and somehow, some way the kind of stars aligned and the ball went in.
My arms went up, I was in shock, I was in a little bit of disbelief as to what had just transpired, and then I realized that I was a fortunate man to be able to don the green jacket. That was kind of a shock and a dream come true for me to win the Masters.
And then later that year at Birkdale, I have a great appreciation for links golf. I think to me that’s the way golf is supposed to be playing. My passion for the Open Championship is second to none. I know I had a chance in ’91 with Ian Baker Finch and a couple other chances, and then in ’98 to go back to Birkdale, a place that I love and enjoy playing, and certainly the conditions were extreme you would say. They stopped play a couple times. That doesn’t happen very often at Open Championships, and to be able to hang on and win in a playoff over Brian Watts and hoist the Claret Jug is something that I’ll always remember.
Q. And David, talk about your two majors at those two courses that are pretty famous in major championship history.
DAVID GRAHAM: Well, I agree with what Mark said. I think for players at the level that I played, I went to all of the majors with high expectations of playing well and trying to win. But you think of the accomplishment of a Jack Nicklaus who won 18 of these things, and you know, to win one is a blessing, let alone win two.
Of course my greatest feeling was when I won the PGA I beat Ben Crenshaw in a playoff, and I think my only supporter in the gallery was my wife. I mean, Ben was the all American kid. He was the next Jack Nicklaus. The stars were aligned when I won that tournament because I played the first and second hole of the playoff not very well in comparison, and I just made a couple of ridiculous putts, and I still don’t have any understanding of how that happened and don’t want to, to be honest with you.
Merion was just the perfect golf course for players that played like me. I played straight. I was a good iron player, and I putted that particular week like magic. I think when you win majors, you do putt like magic. But that course just fitted my game. It was a nice right to left course, which was the way I played.
Oakland Hills, maybe the best 17 holes of golf I ever played was at Oakland Hills because I was 9 under par before double bogeying the last hole, so that was not supposed to happen on that golf course. Yeah, it’s nice to win on those type courses.
Q. My question is for David. I want to talk about phone calls. In the press release it mentioned you getting a phone call from Ben Hogan after you won at Merion. I’d love to hear you recount that story. And then secondly, it’s been a long time coming, and I just want to hear about your feelings about waiting so long for this day to come and then what it meant to you to finally get that phone call and tell a little bit about how the call came to you.
DAVID GRAHAM: Well, the phone call came day before yesterday from Tim Finchem, advising me that the selection committee had chosen me and that the executive director of the USGA, Mike Davis, had presented my name to the committee and that they had voted for it. He made the first call.
The second call came from Mike Davis, and the third call came from Jack Peter from the Hall of Fame. I had three pretty important people on the phone to let me know that.
Yeah, it’s been a long time, but like they say, good things are worth waiting for. I want to thank the selection committee for appointing me to the Hall. It’s a great honor, and I’m delighted. I think it would be very apropos if I really congratulated Arnold and Jack knowing that they supported me in this process.
Q. Laura, I was hoping, it’s been quite a year for you, and I was wondering if you could compare the two honors that you have received and give us some indication of how it felt to receive both of them within the same year.
LAURA DAVIES: Yeah, well, it was good timing really because I actually went to the palace yesterday to essentially get the award from Princess Anne. The Queen was busy that day, so Princess Anne presented me with my medal. They pin you, you walk into the main ball room at Buckingham Palace, and you get the pin pinned on you and you have a little chat and then you walk off, and it’s probably the most nerve racking thing I’ve ever done, and then obviously two days before that the commissioner of the LPGA rang me and told me about this. It’s just the icing on the cake for a very long and obviously quite a successful career.
Actually I can pretty much match the two awards up. They’re on a level playing field to be honest with you. They’re both great honors, and something I never really thought about almost 30 years ago when I turned pro. It was certainly not in my mindset.
Q. David, we spoke at Merion at length and also at Augusta this year. A few times the emotion of it all seemed to really get to you, and later in life you were talking about how this is great that you might have a chance to actually be around for this. If you could just go through those emotions again, and I guess even if it’s relief or just excitement about getting to St. Andrews next year to be part of all of this.
DAVID GRAHAM: Well, I think St. Andrews is just phenomenal, and I think the committee has done a fantastic job of taking the induction to St. Andrews and then back to Florida and then two years after that going to Pebble Beach. I think that’s a wonderful idea, and I think that’s good for world golf. After all, we have to remember it is the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Taking it and doing it in different places I think is a wonderful idea, and I know I think I speak for all of us that St. Andrews would be the most special place that you could have an induction into the Hall of Fame. That in itself is another honor.
As far as the Hall is concerned, I think the new format has made a tremendous amount of difference. We now have the top players in both men’s and women’s golf making selections and looking at their peers and their records and not necessarily just their popularity. So I think the whole move to establish that criteria is going to benefit the Hall for many, many years to come. I’m ecstatic about it, and I’m very humbled.
Q. David had already answered this but I was curious to get the opinions of Laura and Mark in terms of being at St. Andrews. It’s obviously a special place. I just would like to get your opinions.
LAURA DAVIES: Well, I think St. Andrews, we’ve only just started playing there on the women’s rota for our women’s British Open, and I’ve done really badly both years. I’ve missed the cut both times, but it’s still my favorite golf course I’ve ever played. I think as a professional you sometimes get a little bit cynical about courses when you don’t do well on them. Having a dreadful record and just loving going back there and loving the thought of going up there next year, especially the men’s British Open, which is always incredibly special, and to have this ceremony going on there, as David said, it’s an honor in itself. It’s just a lovely thing to look forward to. It’s a year away, but it’s something I’m already looking forward to, and St. Andrews is special for all of us, I think, all golfers.
MARK O’MEARA: As Laura and David both said, on my behalf, I think that it’s a great idea. It is the World Golf Hall of Fame, and certainly to have the last two years, year and a half of recalibrating the selection process, to where we’re at now is only going to help the Hall, and then to select St. Andrews and the Old Course the week of The Open Championship just makes it even more special because I think anybody who’s played for a living, whether you’re an American, Australian, English, it doesn’t matter what country you’re from, but if you love the game of golf, you know deep down inside that St. Andrews is where it all started. It’s the home of golf. It’s the home of the R&A. It’s a historical place, with the University there. I think all of us that are going to have this great honor to be inducted there are thrilled about the opportunity to come and be part of a very special week.
Q. Mark, Laura and David just related how they got the news and who called them and everything, so when and where were you, and who called you when you got the news about this honor?
LAURA DAVIES: Well, I had just got home from Kuala Lumpur, so I was pretty tired, and it was actually an email from the commissioner, and normally when the commissioner is calling you’re in trouble. I’m thinking, what did I do wrong. I’m thinking, I’m going to get this phone call over with quickly, and I called him back and he gave me the news. So I went from thinking I was in trouble and a little bit of panic to probably the best news ever. Yeah, it was nice. He was obviously very pleased for me, and he’s done a great job for us, and it was a nice moment.
MARK O’MEARA: It was kind of the same for me. On Monday I was home here in Houston and I was driving in a pretty big rainstorm, and I saw Tim Finchem’s name come up on my control phone, and it’s not like the commissioner calls me very often, so I thought about letting it go to voicemail, but I was thinking I’d better take this, hoping it might be what it possibly could be, and certainly I answered, and then Tim explained to me about the changes in the format of the selection committee and all this stuff, and then informed me that I was one of the guys and gals, and the four of us are going to be inducted into the Hall. I was thrilled. I was hoping that this time was going to come, and fortunately it did, and then I talked to Jack Peter on the phone.
I think all of us realize that this is kind of the pinnacle of golf, to be recognized by the Hall, by your peers, by the fans, to be included in an area that I think as a young person when we all started playing golf, you have the dreams of possibly that day some day being in the Hall of Fame. So fortunately for us, that call came early this week.
Q. Mark, where exactly in Houston were you driving, and were you ever in any danger of sliding off the road when you heard the news?
MARK O’MEARA: No, I was actually over by the Galleria area and I was stopping to pick something up for my bride. After I got off the phone with Tim I kind of collected myself a little bit, pulled over to the side, and I called my wife and explained to her, hey, I’ve got some good news but I don’t want to tell you over the phone, so I’ll be home in 15 minutes, so when I did come home, she was over the top jumping up and down like a kid in a candy store. I think it all starts to sink in. It takes a little bit of time, like anything. You realize that this is something that takes a lifetime sometimes to achieve, and I know Laura and David, I’ve admired in their careers, and certainly I’ve competed against David and respect David tremendously, and we’ve had several conversations between the two of us, and even David, I saw this fall, and he said, maybe just maybe, wouldn’t it be cool if we both got in at the same time. So David brought it up, and I thought, you know, that would be amazing, and sure enough, that’s what came true.
Q. Jack or Travis, I was wondering who there is to represent the Tillinghast family and what that conversation went like in terms of letting them know that their ancestor will be inducted.
JACK PETER: Well, it’s a good question, and the most recent contact information we have is a great granddaughter. To be honest we have not contacted her yet. We’ve been trying to track her down. It’s been a little bit tricky because the records are just incomplete.
We will track her down, and we’ll bring her into the fold and make sure the Tillinghast family has as much representation as possible in the process.
Q. Mark and David, Tillinghast has designed an awful lot of championship courses, certainly courses that you guys have played over the balance of your careers, I’m wondering courses like Bethpage, Baltusrol, Winged Foot, any particular opinion on the type of championship courses that Mr. Tillinghast designed and how much you’ve enjoyed them, if you did?
DAVID GRAHAM: Well, the whole style of golf course design has completely changed with the inclusion of cart paths, residential, swimming pools, tennis courts, et cetera. The architects today don’t get kind of the land that the old architects used to get. What’s really evident is that the old style golf courses are what we would call built on natural grade. When you think back in the ’20s and ’30s that they had horse drawn equipment and manpower was about all they could use, so the architect was required from a cost standpoint to follow the natural grade. Those courses in those days looked like what we call incredibly natural because of that.
And if you look at even Alistair MacKenzie’s work at Augusta, how it follows the natural grade of the topography. They were classic designers. They didn’t have 60 degree wedges to worry about. They didn’t have utility clubs to worry about in architecture today. The whole nature of the game was completely different. The balls were different. They didn’t go as far. Most of those courses, what made them very appealing to every player was the greens were open, the bunkers were on the left or the right, but they never really intruded on the entrance to the green, which allows all players of all levels to play the game, irrelevant of the trajectory of the golf ball.
It’s just a completely different scenario today, but that’s why I think we admire the classic designs, because they’re just so naturally blended into the terrain.
MARK O’MEARA: It’s like a piece of art. You look at Tillinghast, you look at Alistair MacKenzie, you look at Donald Ross, you look at designers of that era, like David pointed out, those guys were artists. Not to say that the new generation of designers are not, but David is correct, right on, that they just had great pieces of property, great land, great vision, and golf will always stand the test of time even though players hit it further and equipment is better and this and that, but those truly great golf courses, Merion, where David won his Open at, we saw last year or two years ago Justin Rose and the Tour players play that little beautiful test of golf and have great difficulty, but the fans and the people enjoy watching and playing golf courses like that, so it’s nice to have them around.
It’s a great honor for the Tillinghast family and heirs to be recognized for the great work that he did?
Q. From among Baltusrol, Winged Foot and Bethpage, the Tillinghast courses that have been used for majors in recent years, is there one that gave you the most trouble? I’m going to guess Winged Foot, but you tell me.
MARK O’MEARA: Yeah, Winged Foot I would say when the conditions were right, and I think David has played more Opens and majors than I’ve played, but I’d say Winged Foot to me is as good a test as you could ever see. It’s got everything. It’s got tree lined, it’s got length, it’s got small greens, it’s got extremely deep rough when they want to get it that way. You had to be very precise and very accurate, not only off the tee but with your iron shots into the greens, and then you put firm, fast greens on top of that, that’s why Winged Foot was always a huge challenge.
Q. Mark, you had a very, very good amateur career. Do you consider your amateur championship at Pebble as one of your majors? And for David, your last round at Merion has been called by some pretty knowledgeable people as perhaps two or three of the best finishing holes ever in a major. As I recall, the only shot that you half missed was maybe on the fringe of the par 3 17th. Could you talk about your mindset that day?
MARK O’MEARA: Yeah, ’79 was a big summer. I finished my senior year in college, and luckily I played well the last couple years of college golf, but I had won the California State Amateur at Pebble Beach and then went on later that summer to win the U.S. Amateur at Canterbury in Cleveland, Ohio.
I say that to people, I think sometimes I understand the four majors are the four majors, but I felt like at that time, that was without a question the greatest accomplishment that I’d had early in my life. I take great pride. I’m certainly fortunate to be a Masters and an Open Championship winner, but I display my U.S. Amateur championship trophy right next to those two.
You know, golf is always evolving, and you want to win at every stage of your life. You want to win when you’re young, you want to win in your middle age of your life and your older age of your life. For me to have won a U.S. Amateur, for me to have won a couple of major championships on the PGA TOUR, and luckily I was able to win a senior major championship. I feel like golf is something you can play for your whole lifetime, and I certainly have been a guy that’s been very fortunate at 57 to still be playing.
DAVID GRAHAM: You asked about Merion and the 67 on Sunday. Well, I was fortunate. Well, one, I knew I was playing pretty well because I was in the last group on Sunday, so that’s a no brainer to figure that out. But I had rebuilt my swing over many years, mainly with Bruce Devlin’s help, but I played a practice round one time with Gary Player, and he told me, you need to lengthen your swing a little bit, and so he told me to get this very heavy weighted club, which I built. Actually I built it in Jack Nicklaus’s club repair shop in Palm Beach, Florida, and I had swung it for a couple of years every day.
I played on Wednesday at Merion with Gary Player, and we walked off the golf course, and he said to me, he said, I can’t believe you haven’t won one of these yet. He said, you’re playing beautifully. I guess I took that as obviously a pretty positive thing and a very nice thing for him to say, and I played very well on Thursday, but Sunday in particular, Merion was the type of course that you could do that. There were iron shots off the tees to play conservatively, but in those days before they lengthened it, they were all short to mid irons to the greens, so it was relatively easy to hit fairways and hit greens if you were on your game.
I was just blessed. Number one, I was at Merion. Number two, it was a U.S. Open. Number three, it was Sunday, it was on national television, and you won. So I had five things that brought attention to that round of golf. It was really fun, and Ben Hogan was very kind enough to call me and compliment me on that. Everything was just perfect that day.
TRAVIS HILL: That seems like a fantastic way to end things. We want to thank everyone for joining the call today, especially our new inductees. Congratulations again to Laura, David and Mark, and hopefully we’ll see all of you at St. Andrews next year.