‘An American hero’: Memorial honoree Larry Nelson had unlikely path to golf success

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When Gayle Nelson got her husband golf clubs as a Christmas gift in 1969, she had no idea it would change their lives.

It wasn’t even a full set of clubs. Just 3-, 5-, 7- and 9-irons with a driver and 3-wood.

Larry Nelson had recently gotten back from serving as an infantry leader in Vietnam. He and Gayle had gotten married when he was 19 and she was 17.

Larry had been a three-sport athlete in high school. None of the three was golf. At 22, these were his first clubs. The idea that Larry Nelson might someday be the honoree at Nicklaus’ tournament, as he was Wednesday, was beyond preposterous.

“I didn’t know anything about golf,” Nelson said. “I played a lot of pool, so maybe she was trying to get me out of the pool hall.”

Memorial: Thursday tee times | Photos

He was planning to finish his degree at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

“I would have been a chemical engineer,” Nelson said.

Instead, he fell in love with golf. He got a job in a pro shop and took to the game. He bought Ben Hogan’s book, “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.” Within months, he was breaking par.

He became a PGA Tour player in 1973 after playing in only one 72-hole tournament and developed into a top player. He won 10 PGA Tour events and won three major championships, all the while impressing his peers with his humility. He was also a standout Ryder Cup player.

Reflecting on Nelson’s Vietnam War service, Nicklaus said, “Larry Nelson is an American hero.”

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan praised Nelson, and Nelson’s son Josh gave a touching introductory speech.

“It’s kind of hard when you hear things said about you from three or four different people,” the 75-year-old Nelson said. “It makes you think and you reflect, but it’s very emotional. I can’t look at my wife. I’ve known her since she was 3 years old, so it’s hard to look at her without getting emotional anyway.”

Little could Gayle Nelson have known that her gift would result in a day like Wednesday.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s just God’s blessing, and a lot of hard work, certainly.”


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By: Bill Rabinowitz
Title: ‘An American hero’: Memorial honoree Larry Nelson had unlikely path to golf success
Sourced From: golfweek.usatoday.com/2023/06/01/2023-memorial-tournament-jack-nicklaus-larry-nelson-honoree/
Published Date: Thu, 01 Jun 2023 14:00:25 +0000

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