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My Shot: Larry Nelson

Continued (page 4 of 4)

I played in three Ryder Cups and was 9-0 heading into my last one in 1987, where I didn't play well. The highlight was beating Seve Ballesteros four times at The Greenbrier in 1979. I teamed with Lanny, and we beat Seve and Antonio Garrido on Friday, and we beat them again on Saturday morning. Then we drew them a third time in the afternoon. They didn't have a chance. We were nine under after eight holes, and Seve was beside himself. We beat them, 5 and 4. Amazingly, I drew Seve in the singles and beat him again. I remember us playing a par 5 with a very deep fairway bunker. My drive stopped right next to that bunker, so I had to stand in the bunker and gouge it out. I still had 215 yards for my third shot. Seve was way past me on the drive and in the fairway, and he was looking at a sure win. Well, he blows it over the green, and I hit a 4-wood stiff for birdie. Seve didn't get up and down, and I won the hole. I closed him out on 16. It was that kind of week.

I never did captain a Ryder Cup team, and I have to say, it hurts. Before the PGA of America announced who the 1995 team captain would be, it was tacitly understood that I would captain the '95 team at Oak Hill and Lanny would captain the 1997 team at Valderrama. But then Lanny came up with an inspired idea: He should captain the '95 team, and I should be moved back to captaining in '97 so that I could go up against Seve, who would captain the Europeans and whom I'd had so much success against as a player. I thought that was a neat idea, and Lanny did captain in '95. Fast forward a year or so later. I was in Japan, when I got a call from my agent. Tom Kite had been named U.S. Ryder Cup captain for 1997. That really did hurt, because I wasn't privy to how my being bypassed came about. It's a very mysterious process, similar, I think, to how the Pope is chosen. I'm a non-confrontational person and didn't challenge it in any way -- not that it would have helped. But the way the episode transpired still hurts. I'm sorry I never got the chance, and now it's probably too late for it to ever happen.

Tom Kite's wife, Christy, told me that when Tom showed up to play in a regular tour event a couple of years ago, some of the young players didn't know who he was. That's kind of funny, if you're looking for something to tease Tom about. But it's kind of sad, too, that there are golfers who don't recognize a U.S. Open champion who also captained the Ryder Cup team less than 10 years earlier.

I was at a tournament recently. Tiger came in with his security people, and Vijay had his. People were screaming their names and closing in on them; it was a rock-star atmosphere. Then I went to see Nicklaus and Palmer. One is the greatest player of all time, the other the most popular. They had no security, just them and their caddies. They never did. It was the same thing with Muhammad Ali, and no athlete was bigger than he was. All this security today, is it because there are a lot more crazies now? Is our society worse than it used to be? Could it be that the players create this hysteria by being more aloof and inaccessible? I really don't know the answer, but it sure is an interesting question.

Jack and Arnold weren't always pleased with tour policy, and their power was such that they could have influenced the policy board to suit their own interests. Certainly they made their voices heard, but they never made demands to suit their interests specifically. They felt a responsibility for the future. They exercised maybe the highest principle in golf, which is putting the game before the individual. The overwhelming majority of players today have the same ethic as everyone else in pro sports and the business world, which is to push for what will serve them individually.

After having only medium success my first years on tour, it dawned on me that I needed to play golf with more inspiration. I was too flat-line out there. I thought if I could start enjoying the good shots I hit, it would help me and I'd have more fun. So, I took the lid off my emotions -- for me. I'm not sure anybody else noticed. But I did break a putter on the Champions Tour once. I leaned on it, and it snapped. I'd like to say I lost my temper a bit, but the truth is, it had a bad shaft.

Ben Van Hook
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July 28, 2014

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