- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

There are still two names conspicuously absent from the roster of legends in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Two days ago, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced this year’s three selections for induction into the game’s ultimate shrine — Nick Price, Leo Diegel and Chako Higuchi. Now, nobody can question the selection of Price, the three-time major champion with the compact swing and convivial personality. Or Diegel, who tallied 30 career PGA Tour victories and back-to-back PGA titles (1928-29). And perhaps even Higuchi, who dominated the Japanese LPGA Tour throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, belongs in St. Augustine.

But it’s hard to believe that all three beat the likes of Henry Picard and Tom Kite to the Hall.

Let’s start with Picard, who not only forged a brilliant career of his own in the 1930s but helped jump-start two others.

Born in Plymouth, Mass., in 1907, Picard was raised in a well-heeled environment that gave him an appreciation for elegant clothes and a certain gentlemanly deference to authority. These two qualities attracted chocolate mogul Milton Hershey to Picard when he was looking for a top player to be the head pro at his posh Hershey Golf Club in 1930. Picard took the job and used the resort as his base throughout his career, earning him the nickname “The Chocolate Soldier.”

Picard finished his career with 26 PGA Tour victories, more than any eligible player not currently in the Hall of Fame, and two major titles (1938 Masters, 1939 PGA). In the finals of the latter, he edged Byron Nelson in 37 holes at Pomonok CC on Long Island to become the Tour’s leading money winner in 1939 ($10,303). In an esoteric vein, Picard (along with Gene Sarazen) is also one of only two players to beat Walter Hagen in a playoff.

But it was Picard’s mentoring of two transcendent champions that possibly marks his ultimate contribution to the game. In 1937, Picard gave 25-year-old Sam Snead a driver he was convinced would help cure Snead’s chronic snap-hooks.

“I had been trying heavier and heavier clubheads, but that just made my hands get faster and faster,” Snead told The Washington Times in a 2000 interview. “Picard give me this driver that was slightly longer, and darned if it didn’t slow everything down and cure that snapper.”

After winning once in 1936, Snead won 13 times in 1937 and 1938 playing with Picard’s gift driver.

Just a year after curing Snead’s snap-hook, Picard came to the aid of another eventual legend after witnessing a heated exchange between Ben and Valerie Hogan in the lobby of the Blackstone Hotel in Fort Worth, Texas.

As Curt Sampson tells the tale in his book “Hogan,” Picard asked the taciturn Texan to pinpoint the cause of the tiff. When Hogan, then struggling mightily without a victory on Tour, told him he and his wife were arguing about finances and that he might have to quit the Tour, Picard intervened. He told Hogan that though it was certainly none of his business, he would lend him money if Hogan needed it to stay on Tour. Though Hogan never cashed in on the offer, he later wrote, “knowing that help was there if I needed it helped me forget about my troubles.”

Later that year, Picard invited the lightly regarded Hogan to the Hershey Four-Ball, then a prestigious event featuring only 16 players. Before the tournament, Picard had to explain the odd invite to both the press and, more importantly, Hershey. But after Hogan teamed with Vic Ghezzi to win the event, the first of his 64 Tour victories, Picard never again had to justify his support.

Indeed, one could claim Picard had a hand in three Hall-of-Fame careers.

In Kite’s case, the oversight is equally quizzical.

The 53-year-old Texan rates as one of the most consistent players the game has ever produced. Not only did Kite win 19 Tour events, but he had the lowest scoring average (70.53) of anyone on Tour for the 14-year period between 1980-93. He was the game’s career earnings leader from Oct. 29, 1989 until Aug. 27, 1995, when Hall-of-Famer Greg Norman slipped past him. And his astounding 209 top-10 finishes place him behind just Snead (330), Nicklaus (286), Palmer (245), Hogan (241) and Watson (218.) You know you’re in serious company when first names are superfluous.

The only hole in “ATM’s” resume is his lone major championship uprising (1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach). But when you consider Kite’s added contributions as a Senior PGA Tour regular (six more victories) and Ryder Cup captain (1997), his induction seems like outrageously overdue.

“There’s no question that Tom Kite is a Hall-of-Famer,” said Ben Crenshaw, who shared the 1972 NCAA Championship with Kite, after his fellow Texan was snubbed by the selection committee last year. “I’m biased, because he’s my dear friend. But his tremendous record speaks for itself and will eventually carry the day.”


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