ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Retired Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament chairman Billy Payne is among five people selected for induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
A 16-member panel of mostly golf administrators also selected two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, three-time major champion Jan Stephenson, LPGA charter member and renowned teacher Peggy Kirk Bell and Dennis Walters, who has been inspiring golfers through clinics despite being paralyzed from the chest down since he was 24.
The induction ceremony will be June 10, 2019, at the Sunset Center in Carmel-By-The-Sea, three days before the first round of the U.S. Open.
Payne stepped down as chairman in 2017 after several notable achievements, including the admission of the club’s first female members in 2012. Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore were invited to join nearly a decade after the club’s membership practices were criticized by a national women’s organization.
With golf struggling to attract new players because of time and money, Payne joined forces with golf’s governing bodies to create the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship. The annual event for children ages 7-15 attracts thousands of youngsters who strive to reach the finals held at Augusta National on the eve of the Masters.
Payne and the game’s ruling bodies also created two new amateur tournaments, the Asia-Pacific Amateur and Latin America Amateur. He dangled the ultimate carrot - a Masters berth - to give each tournament an immediate boost.
The reactions from the four living members ran the gamut of positive emotions Wednesday as they related their reactions when they found out they would be inducted next June near the site of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Goosen and Stephenson were elected on the basis of stellar playing records. Goosen won 33 worldwide events and played on six consecutive Presidents Cup teams and Stephenson won 16 LPGA titles, including three majors.
Walters, who was paralyzed from the chest down because of an auto accident but has reached hundreds of thousands through more than 3,000 golf and life lesson clinics, was voted in through the Lifetime Achievement category.
Payne, a former standout football player at the University of Georgia, also was praised for embracing the digital age among his many Masters-related achievements.
Bell, a founding member of the LPGA and the first female to make Golf Magazine’s Golf Teachers Hall of Fame, will be inducted on a posthumous basis.
Payne and Bell also were voted in through the Lifetime Achievement category.
Goosen was practicing his putting on Tuesday when he got a phone call from long time mentor and Hall of Fame member Gary Player to inform him of his election.
“He sounded extremely excited and when he told me, I sounded excited,” said Goosen, legendary for his focus and emotionless demeanor when in the hunt. “I felt shaky after that. I missed a lot of putts.”
Stephenson was informed by Hall member Nancy Lopez and at first thought it was going to be another dose of bad news. Lopez, one of the co-chairs of the Hall of Fame selection commission, called her in 2016 to let her know she had not made it into the Hall.
“I knew she was going to tell me I didn’t make it again,” said Stephenson, an Australian who won the 1983 U.S. Women’s Open. “She started the conversation two years ago ... ‘I know you’ve worked so hard for the LPGA but you didn’t make it.’ She started exactly the same way ... ‘I know you’ve worked really hard,’ and so I started crying. And then she said, ‘but this time you’ve been recognized and you’ve made it.’ I’ve been crying, goosebumps, couldn’t sleep.It was like winning the U.S. Open all over again.”
Walters was tag-teamed on a conference call by Hall of Fame president Jack Peter, Player and another charter Hall of Fame member, Jack Nicklaus. In unison, they said “Congratulations ... you’ve just been elected to the Hall of Fame.”
“I’m not a big crier but this made me cry,” Walters said. “I can’t walk but when I got that call I felt like I could fly.”
Payne said the task of the Augusta National chairman has evolved to more than simply running a private club and perhaps the world’s most coveted tournament championship but still harkens back to the standards set by the club founders - both Hall of Fame members. Bobby Jones was inducted in 1974 and Clifford Roberts was inducted in 1978.
“The efforts that I was a part of during my 11 years at Augusta were a distinct effort to reflect back on the contributions that Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts had made to golf, their love of golf and their desire that golf would become a game, not only for the privileged but for others,” Payne said. “Because of what they believed golf could do in the area of friendships and relationships. I didn’t invent any of that. I simply thought it was my obligation as chairman to return us a bit to an all-out effort to be an asset to the game of golf and not just as asset to the community of Augusta.”