The World Golf Hall of Fame’s membership grew to 160 as Dennis Walters, Jan Stephenson, Peggy Kirk Bell, Retief Goosen and Billy Payne were inducted during the 2019 Ceremony at the Sunset Centre in California.
Just three days before the 119th U.S. Open Championship kicks off in nearby Pebble Beach, past champions and 28 fellow Hall of Fame Members returned to celebrate the Class of 2019 Inductees including the Co-Chairs of the Selection Commission, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam.
“We send our sincere congratulations to the esteemed members of the World Golf Hall of Fame Class of 2019,” said Greg McLaughlin, CEO of World Golf Foundation. “It is a special evening with so many returning Hall of Fame Members as we kick off the 119th U.S. Open Championship.”
In addition to the Hall of Fame Members and World Golf Foundation Board of Directors, other notable guests include Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley, former PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem, and former Secretary of State and Augusta National Golf Club Member – one of the first female members under Payne’s tenure as Chairman – Condoleezza Rice.
Emceed by well-known TV reporter Terry Gannon, the ceremony was broadcasted live on Golf Channel with additional streaming on SiriusXM’s PGA TOUR Radio.
First to receive the Induction Crystal was Dennis Walters, presented by his long-time friends Jack and Barbara Nicklaus.
Walters, who was paralysed at 24 after a golf cart accident, gave an emotional speech about his journey to become the inspiration he is today, which was further accentuated with an awe-inspiring moment when Walters rose out of his wheelchair and walked to the podium to give his Induction speech.
“On the day competitive golf was taken away from [Dennis], that’s the day his legacy began,” said Jack Nicklaus, World Golf Hall of Fame Class of 1974. “Dennis took what most of us would view as a weakness and made it a strength. After tonight, Dennis will be remembered by one more honour to add by those he’s already received – World Golf Hall of Fame Member.”
Gary Player took to the stage to introduce fellow South African and 14-time European Tour winner, Retief Goosen – who also won the European Tour’s Order of Merit in 2001 and 2002.
Goosen, a two-time U.S. Open champion, joins Ernie Els and Player – who were both present at the Induction Ceremony – as the fourth South African to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Goosen remarked on his golf career, sharing his love for the game from early on in his life. He recalled the time when he was struck by lightning on the golf course at the age of 15. He beat the odds after quickly recovering and returning to the golf course just a few weeks later, going on to win two Majors among his 33 worldwide wins.
Next up was Australian icon and LPGA golf legend, Jan Stephenson. Stephenson was presented with a video tribute from friend and actress, Jane Seymour. Stephenson reminisced about the moment her career took off when then-Commissioner Ray Volpe asked her to become the face of the LPGA. From 1974 - 1987, Stephenson was a force on the Tour, winning 16 times including three Major Championships.
Shortly after, Peggy Kirk Bell’s family paid tribute to her legacy in a video played for the audience. Bell, who was a Charter Member of the LPGA Tour, amateur champion and winner of the 1949 Titleholders Championship, is being celebrated for her lifetime of achievements as a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Bell’s two daughters and son accepted the Induction Crystal on her behalf.
Last to the podium was Chairman Emeritus of Augusta National Golf Club, Billy Payne, who received the Induction Crystal from his close friend and current Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley. Chairman Ridley acknowledged Payne’s “enthusiasm for life, his total commitment to excellence and his passion for our sport [which] has been a great inspiration.” After receiving his Crystal, Payne congratulated his fellow Inductees and Hall of Fame Members.
“Every single one of you is a personal hero of mine, and I’m honoured to share the stage with you tonight,” said Payne.