Mark James was awarded Honorary Life Membership of The European Tour on Thursday at the Senior Tour annual awards dinner in the stunning Woburn Abbey.
The Englishman, winner of 18 European Tour titles in an illustrious career, was bestowed the highest honour of The European Tour by Chief Executive George O’Grady, capping a superb occasion on the eve of the Travis Perkins plc Senior Masters at Woburn Golf Club.
It was fitting that the 58 year old was given the award in Woburn, the scene of his maiden Senior Tour victory, the 2005 Bovis Lend Lease Senior Masters, and also the 1990 Dunhill British Masters.
James’ stellar career has spanned more than three decades and featured seven Ryder Cup appearances between 1977 and 1995. He also Captained Europe in 1999, and since turning 50 he has collected two European Senior Tour titles and three on the Champions Tour in the USA. Indeed, he was the first European player to win one of the Champions Tour’s senior majors – the Senior Players Championship in 2004.
“It’s a great honour and I’m absolutely delighted,” said James. “I’m thrilled that it has come from my fellow professionals and people on the Tournament Committee. That makes it all the nicer.
“Last night was a very special evening and completes the prize. I’m just really thrilled. Quite a few people have asked me today what it’s for – I haven’t come up with an answer yet! I guess it’s a bit of everything.
“My fellow pros are very happy for me – or so I’d like to think. I’m always happy when a fellow professional achieves something. They’ve been very kind.”
O’Grady said: “Mark’s achievements during a professional career stretching more than 30 years have been quite extraordinary and it was a privilege to honour him, on behalf of the European Tour Tournament Committee, at the European Senior Dinner at Woburn with Honorary Life Membership, the highest award we as a Tour can bestow.
“Mark joined The European Tour after an excellent amateur career and he has achieved outstanding success both on and off the fairways. His 18 European Tour wins, including two Irish Opens and the British Masters at Woburn, underline his huge ability as a player, as does seven appearances in The Ryder Cup for which he was Europe’s captain in 1999.
“Mark also served The European Tour superbly as a member of the Tournament Committee from 1982 and indeed as Chairman from 1994 until his retirement in December 2003, and continues to be an influential player on the European Senior Tour.”
It is has been a long and successful journey since James bartered a deal with his father in his teens, agreeing to work hard for his A Levels in return for assistance to play one year as a full-time amateur.
The deal paid off as he obtained two A Levels and then won the 1974 English Amateur, before playing in the Walker Cup the following year.
His maiden professional win came at the 1977 Lusaka Open in Zambia, and in 1978 he claimed the first of his impressive haul of European Tour titles at the Sun Alliance Match Play Championship, beating Neil Coles in the final after first round victories over John Bland, Eddie Polland, Tony Jacklin, Seve Ballesteros, Brian Huggett and Sam Torrance.
James finished in the top 30 of the Order of Merit 20 times – his best was third in 1979 – and represented England in the World Cup on ten occasions.
He had four top-five finishes in The Open Championship, and arguably his finest Ryder Cup moment was at the 1995 contest, when he beat Jeff Maggert 4&3 in the singles to contribute to Europe winning 14½ - 13½ at Oak Hill under Bernard Gallacher.
James has had his battles off the golf course as well, chiefly being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2000, which he overcame after surgery and chemotherapy.
These days he is regularly in contention on the Senior Tour, commentates for the BBC and is passionate about gardening. “I feel at home in ground under repair!” he joked.