Born: September 10, 1947
Birthplace: Ft. Payne, Alabama
Height: 5 ft 9 in
College: Kennesaw Junior College
Turned Pro: 1971
Unlike most professional golfers, Larry Nelson didn’t pick up a golf club until he was 21 years old – he picked up a rifle instead and served the United States as an infantryman during the Vietnam War.
Nelson proved to be a fast study and a natural talent – breaking 100 the first time he played an 18-hole round. Nelson read Ben Hogan’s The Five Fundamentals of Golf as he was beginning to learn the mechanics of the golf swing. Nelson was shooting par less than a year after he played his first round.
Nelson attended a junior college after returning from Vietnam and graduated in 1970. A year later he turned pro. Nelson earned his PGA Tour card in 1973.
His first PGA Tour win was at the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic in 1979. He won again at the Western Open in 1979 and again in 1980.
Nelson took his game to the next level in 1981. After winning at the Greater Greensboro Open in April, Nelson won his first Major championship at the 1981 PGA Championship. Nelson fired a pair of 66’s in rounds two and three and won by four shots over Fuzzy Zoeller.
It would take Nelson almost two years before he’d win again, but the wait was worth it as he added a second Major to his resume. Nelson denied Tom Watson winning back-to-back U.S. Opens when he prevailed by a single shot over Watson, closing with rounds of 65 and 67 on the weekend. Nelson overtook Watson and Seve Ballesteros on a Sunday afternoon and Monday morning at historic Oakmont Country Club.
Nelson would win his 3rd and final Major at the 1987 PGA Championship in dramatic fashion – beating Lanny Wadkins in a sudden death playoff. In 97 degree heat, Nelson holed a par putt from 6 feet on the 1st hole of sudden death. Wadkins missed his putt from 4 feet, handing the championship to Nelson.
Nelson extended his career on the Champions Tour, winning 19 times on golf’s senior circuit.