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Donna Caponi elected to LPGA Hall of Fame

Donna Caponi got the validation today from what she always believed was a Hall of Fame career on the LPGA Tour.

Caponi, whose 24 victories and four major championships fell short of the toughest Hall of Fame standards in sports, was elected through the Veteran's Committee and will be inducted as the 19th member from the LPGA Tour.

"It's the most tremendous thing I could ever imagine,'' Caponi said.

The Veteran's Committee, formed in 1999 when the LPGA overhauled its criteria for getting into the Hall of Fame, nominated Caponi in March. She then received the required 75 percent of the vote from tour members.

Caponi, who is at the Verizon Byron Nelson Classic as a television analyst for The Golf Channel, said she was in tears when she heard she was nominated. She didn't get news of the final vote until checking her phone messages upon returning from a photo safari in Africa.

"Her career, without question, is a Hall of Fame career,'' LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw said.

The induction will be Nov. 12 at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla.

Caponi won the 1969 U.S. Open for her first victory, successfully defended her Open title and went on to a 23-year career in which she competed against fellow Hall-of-Famers JoAnne Carner, Judy Rankin, Nancy Lopez and Pat Bradley.

Despite her record, she fell six victories short of Hall of Fame standards that Caponi referred to as "ridiculous.'' The criteria was 30 victories with two majors, 35 victories with one major or 40 victories with no majors.

Fearful that no one would qualify for the Hall of Fame because of the deeper, stronger competition, the LPGA changed its requirements two years ago to a points system. The new criteria is 27 points, with one point for each regular tour victory and major award (player of the year and Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average), and majors worth two points.

The tour also established a Veteran's Committee, which nominates one retired player each year. Rankin was nominated and elected a year ago, and she and Caponi would have met the 27-point standard.

Caponi spent the final seasons of her career trying to win six more times to get into the Hall of Fame, and the pressure took the fun out of the game. She retired in 1992, figuring she would have to settle for two U.S. Opens and two LPGA Championships as her most prized accomplishments.

"I just said the Hall of Fame is not going to happen,'' she said.

Once she got word of her election, she held back tears talking about her parents -- Harry, who died in 1971 at age 49, and Dolly, who died of breast cancer in 1981 at 56.

"I owe everything I am today to my parents,'' she said. "I owe everything to my dad who spent hours and hours and hours teaching me.''

She recalled how her father took her to the back end of a driving range and practice shaping her shots around a large avocado tree, and how she challenged a childhood friend in a game of hitting shots over a chain-link fence, moving closer to the fence with each shot.

"Those are the things that popped into my head,'' Caponi said. "Nothing about the tournaments I won, just the stuff I did as a kid.''

That stuff shaped a game that Caponi took to the LPGA Tour as a 19-year-old and sent her on the way to a career that proved to be good enough for the Hall of Fame.

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