My recent column about Gordon Brewer and the World Golf Hall of Fame generated quite a bit of response. The most common thread that came my way was, “You mean to tell me Jay Sigel is not in the World Golf Hall of Fame?” Incredibly, that is true, and that fact is just another reason why the Hall needs to take a hard look at how amateurs are evaluated for induction.
Philadelphia native Sigel, born in 1943, attended then-golf powerhouse Wake Forest University with the same goal as most good college players: the pro tour. However, an arm injury caused him to rethink his ambition and he returned home to start an insurance business and to play high-level competitive amateur golf. And play he did. Simply stated, Sigel became one of the great American amateurs of any era.
From 1982 to 1987, Sigel captured five USGA championships, including back-to-back U.S. Amateur titles in 1982 and 1983. Sigel is the author of a very unusual USGA moment; in 1983, he won both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Mid-Amateur. In doing so, he became the first player to possess two USGA national championships in a single year since Bobby Jones did it in 1930 when he won the Grand Slam.
What makes his record so impressive is that he was a dominant amateur as a mid-amateur, taking on the college kids and winning as often as not. The Porter Cup, the Northeast Amateur, the Sunnehanna Invitational, the U.S. Amateur – these are among the elite summer amateur events the collegians play. Sigel won each of these titles three times during an amateur career that ran for more than 25 years. In the classic mid-amateur sense, he was also raising a family and building a business – a very successful one at that. He played more weekend club golf than he did national competitive golf.
The exclamation point on Sigel’s career is his Walker Cup performance. No American player has competed in more Walker Cups or earned more individual match victories than Sigel. From 1977-93, Sigel played on the American squad in every Walker Cup Match, and was on the winning side a remarkable eight of the nine times.
He was the playing captain in 1983 when the U.S. won at Royal Liverpool, and again in 1985 when the Yanks won at Pine Valley. Over that 17-year span, he posted an 18-10-5 mark in 33 matches. By contrast, Hall of Fame member Bill Campbell appeared in the second-highest number of individual matches (18), equal to the number of matches Sigel won.
Sigel was the first really talented career amateur to have to consider what is now the Champions Tour. In business for just 14 years when Sigel turned 50 in 1994, the Senior Tour was ascendant, with Lee Trevino and Dave Stockton dominating and Jack Nicklaus still competing. Sigel had to have had a certain sense of “what if,” and no doubt he wanted to see how his game measured up. So he turned pro, and would go on to win eight times on the Champions Tour, better than many of the journeymen PGA Tour players who took advantage of a second pro career.
So why isn’t Sigel in the Hall of Fame? Theories abound. Ask a dozen people, you’ll get a dozen different reasons. Perhaps it is the Hall’s lack of interest in amateur golf; just 11 male amateurs are inducted out of a total of 136 inductees. Perhaps he is somehow being penalized for turning pro after a successful amateur run, although in a shrine full of professionals, that seems doubtful.
Perhaps he was just overlooked, forgotten by the amateur game, but not really a part of the mainstream pro firmament. No one knows. But as in the case of legendary career amateur Vinny Giles, this is a situation that cries out for redress. A hall of fame without these two estimable competitors is diminished in purpose and vision.
Concern is that the amateur community feels disenfranchised by the Hall. I heard that hinted by many with whom I spoke, kind of a “we’re not welcome there” sense. As one knowledgeable observer pointed out, it shouldn’t mistakenly be called the “Professional World Golf Hall of Fame.”
Perhaps the problem is a relative one. If you are going to compare the résumés of amateurs to inductees such as Jack Nicklaus or Annika Sorenstam, they are going to fall short. Amateurs should be judged only against other amateurs and the era in which they played. On this basis, you’d have many, many more amateurs from around the world in the Hall. And rightfully so. After all, there are more “non-competitors” (celebrities, entertainers, politicians, course designers and business executives) in the Hall than amateurs. Hard to believe.
I recently had the opportunity to ask another Pennsylvania Hall of Fame member if Sigel’s career was worthy of induction. Arnold Palmer, whose father, Deacon, taught Sigel years ago, responded affirmatively. “In time,” he observed, “Jay Sigel will be in the Hall of Fame.”
May that time be sooner rather than later.