Fred Couples and the endless debate of Hall of Fame candidacy

Fred Couples on 1st Tee by Bill Spruce, on Flickr
Photo  by  Bill Spruce 
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License

Fred Couples was announced on Wednesday as the first inductee for the World Golf Hall of Fame’s class of 2013, and when I heard the news, my gut reaction was that it made sense. Then, I sat and watched as my Twitter timeline filled up with golf pundits declaring that Couples didn’t deserve to get in, at least not yet.
Presumably, these guys all have a vote in the process. The WGHOF doesn’t release the names of those who do, so it’s not 100% clear to me who is and isn’t doing the voting. Now, there are three requirements that all golfers must meet before getting considered for induction on the PGA Tour side. They are as follows:

  1. They must be at least 40 years old.
  2. Must be a member of the PGA Tour for ten years.
  3. Ten career wins or two majors or two Players Championships.

Couples qualifies for all three, with fifteen wins in his career, including one major (1992 Masters) and two Players Championships in 1984 and 1996, so there’s no issue with his qualifications. So, what’s the problem?
According to several articles I’ve read over the past few days, the issue is more with the process than the final result. For induction into the Hall, you’re supposed to receive 65% of the vote, but if no one gets to that benchmark, the committee can enshrine anyone who got to at least 50%. From the reports, Couples got to 51%. Now, you can definitely argue that the process is broken. 65% is lower than most Hall of Fames, as you can see from the table below, and the idea that you can still get in without getting to that number is ridiculous. I’m assuming the only reason why Couples is getting in now is because the WGHOF didn’t want to go a year without inducting someone with PGA Tour credentials, but that’s hardly an endorsement of Couples or the Hall itself. It would have been very difficult for the WGHOF to exceed last year’s event, headlined by Phil Mickelson, Dan Jenkins and Peter Alliss, and it seems like the attempt to do something over nothing has ruffled a few feathers.

Pro Football Hall of Fame

Hockey Hall of Fame 75%
Baseball Hall of Fame 75%
Basketball Hall of Fame 75% of the honors committee
World Golf Hall of Fame 65%

Some argued that there are other players who are more deserving of the honour than Couples, such as Davis Love III, Ken Venturi or Mark O’Meara. I’m not going to argue against any of those three men, who all have substantial career resumes, but what I’ve been trying to figure out is why those with the vote are so angry with the result. Certainly the Hall of Fame debate is more rampant in other sports, baseball and hockey in particular, and I get it to some degree. It’s fun for the fans to debate the merits of all kinds of players, and the Hall of Fame gives people the opportunity to compare and contrast players across eras, which they couldn’t do while the players were playing at their peaks.
At his peak, you could make the argument that there were few in the game better than Couples, and if it weren’t for a series of nearly career ending back problems, “Boom Boom” would have an even more esteemed record than what he currently holds. Even now at 52 years old Couples can contend with the younger guys on the PGA Tour, which is something few players have ever been able to do at his age. Throughout his career, Couples has always been thought of as one of the best in the world, with the smoothest swing on the planet and a personality that made him instantly liked by anyone he came across. The game of golf has been undeniably better with Couples’ presence in it, and his resume speaks for itself. So, again, what’s the problem?
As has been the case in the past with other sports, it seems like the golf writers think that they have been entrusted with some kind of supernatural power. Their vote is so sacred and important, that they owe it to to not only the fans of the game, but to the greats already enshrined in the Hall to keep the riffraff out. Fred Couples is not riffraff, far from it actually. People have said, “Well, we’ve let Fred in, where do we draw the line?” My response to that: Who cares? Stop talking like it’s your duty to protect the sanctity of the game and the hallowed walls of the Hall. We’ve come to take every Hall of Fame far too seriously. At the induction ceremony, Couples will get on the stage, say a few words, get a plaque at the end of the night, and the next time we’ll see him is when he’s on the course. His induction means little in the long run. It’s a nice thing to see at the bottom at his list of accomplishments, but it isn’t something that’s going to fundamentally change the way we look at him as a player or person. It’s interesting how the complaints seemingly started with the process, but now Couples has been attacked as a result. He didn’t ask anyone to nominate him, and frankly, with his demeanor and attitude, I’m not even sure that he would even care if he got in or not.
Couples himself admitted that he may have gotten in based on his popularity, and that while he was never a great player, he was always a good one. For a sport that is too often exclusionary and uptight, Couples has always been cool. Even to this day, he seems to carry around that old cliche of having the “it factor”, the trait that is impossible to define, but immediately recognizable when you see it. The resumes of guys like O’Meara and Love are better, and they will both likely get in to the Hall at some point, but neither have had the cultural impact of Couples. In a time when we throw around the word icon far too often, Couples is one of the few in the game of golf that is deserving of the title. That’s why he’s going into the Hall of Fame next May.

1 Comments on “Fred Couples and the endless debate of Hall of Fame candidacy”

  1. Pingback: Colin Montgomerie’s contentious induction to the World Golf Hall of Fame |

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