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Original Issue

Time to Overhaul the Hall

Amy Alcott's exclusion is the LPGA Hall of Fame's shame

Only a sadist could enjoy watching Amy Alcott's ongoing humiliation at the entrance to the LPGA Hall of Fame. Alcott has been out there for nearly three years now, her nose pressed against the glass. She's golf's bag lady. Last spring the door opened and Patty Sheehan swept by, welcomed in with hugs and tears. The curators flashed Amy embarrassed smiles and closed the door—softly, so as not to appear rude.

For those of us with feelings, however, Amy on the Threshold is getting hard to watch. Alcott has 29 career victories, five of them majors, and if a vote were taken today she would be a tap-in to join the 13 women already enshrined. The trouble is, you don't get into the LPGA Hall of Fame by ballot. You get in by winning an arbitrary number of sanctioned events. The standards were established when the Hall was started in 1967: For players with two or more major titles, like Alcott, the requirement is 30 titles. With only one major win, a player needs 35 victories, and no majors ups the ante to 40. There's also a 10-year playing requirement.

Alcott, who has spent two decades as an LPGA player, may not get that 30th title. Since winning the Nabisco Dinah Shore in March 1991 for her fifth major and 29th overall victory, she has played wretchedly. She misses putts and cuts and plays scared. Formerly a free spirit, Alcott now wears a haunted look.

"I shouldn't be struggling to achieve a number," she says. "Not with what I've done. I've won in the wind and the rain, in debilitating heat, in Canada and the U.S. I've won when I was eight ahead and from six back. I've beaten the best players in the world on the best golf courses. What more do I have to prove?"

The Hall's answer: She has to prove, at age 38, that she can win one more tournament. Apparently it never occurred to the LPGA that a legend might lock up on 29 and that the Hall of Fame would turn into a Hall of Humiliation.

Several factors add to Alcott's torment. She turned pro when she was only 19 and now would like to cut back. "I don't need the money," she says, "and I don't enjoy traveling anymore. I'd love to take acting classes." While she's chasing one more win, the only acting practice Alcott gets is in pretending to enjoy herself.

She lost a lot of joy when her mother, Lea, died of lung cancer in 1990. "We used to finish each other's sentences," Amy says. "She was my best friend." Afterward, Alcott's interest in golf flagged, though she has never taken time off from the tour. In the off-season, however, she does break away. Recently she has worked as a cook at the Butterfly Bakery, in Westwood, Calif.

But Alcott must also be suffering from the near certainty that her ordeal is pointless. Eventually the Hall will ease its standards for the simple reason that better competition has made the 30-win plateau almost unattainable. Besides Alcott, only Betsy King, with 29 wins, and Beth Daniel, with 27, are within reach., Says King, "I think they'll change the criteria after they see what happens to us. And they should."

The operative phrase is "after they see what happens to us." Last year Alcott played in 22 tournaments and her best finish was a tie for sixth. She won $60,518, her lowest earnings total since 1977. She was 77th on the money list but first in pitiful glances. "What about the Hall?" reporters asked daily. "I've stopped thinking about it," she replied.

Defenders of the status quo point out that the standards are objective and keep politics out of the selection process. They're right. There are no questionable inductees among the select group in the LPGA's Hall of Fame. No one like Lee Trevino, who was voted by the Golf Writers Association of America into the PGA World Golf Hall of Fame and who finished his PGA Tour career with 29 wins, including six majors. And no one like the sure-to-be-enshrined Hale Irwin, with three U.S. Open titles among 19 wins; or Tom Kite, the PGA Tour's alltime leading money-winner with one U.S. Open among 19 victories; or Johnny Miller, with 23 wins, including two majors, in a career cut short by injury.

Those appalled by Alcott's humbling should urge the LPGA to change its criteria. Meanwhile, fans can get a jump on her induction by treating her appearances as ceremonial, greeting her with huzzahs and applause. Hall of Famers deserve no less.

"In my mind, I'm already in the Hall of Fame," Alcott says. "This is a lot of B.S."

It's that and more. It's cruel.