The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

December 22, 2012

Larry Nelson deserves opportunity to captain Ryder Cup team

Larry Nelson is a class act. He also was one of the top players on the PGA Tour in the 1980s.

The soft-spoken Alabaman won the PGA Championship in 1981 and 1987 and the U.S. Open in 1983. That’s the stuff of legends, you would think. It earned him a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

This is the sort of quality guy U.S. Ryder Cup officials should want as a captain for the American team. He’s been there as a player and has amassed an enviable 9-3-1 record in the matches.

But apparently somebody higher up in the PGA hierarchy is hard to impress.

So even though Nelson was semi-promised the Ryder Cup job in 1985 for 1987, Larry has been sitting around for years waiting for the call from the powers-that-be. The telephone has never jingled.

The problem with Nelson may be a perception that he is too nice and too quiet. Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys and UCLA’s John Wooden fall into that category, too, and both did quite well in the arenas of pro football and collegiate basketball, thank you.

Jack Nicklaus, who was never a fiery guy like Paul Azinger or Corey Pavin, once conceded a putt to Tony Jacklin that gave Europe a tie in the matches. I suspect that as nice a person Nelson is, he wouldn’t have done that. Only a Nicklaus or a Palmer could get away with it, and in today’s supercharged atmosphere surrounding the Ryder Cup. Even they might find themselves being threatened with tar and feathers.

Tom Watson is a great choice as the Ryder Cup captain for the matches in 2014. I have met him. He, too, is a quality guy, a fabulous player who has been a winning Ryder Cup captain in the past. He brings to the job lots of knowledge about how the game of golf should be played, about course strategy and about human frailties.

But if professionals need help getting psyched up for the Ryder Cup and if they can’t get the competitive juices flowing, they don’t belong on the team.  Seve Ballesteros was one of the most volatile people I’ve seen. He wore his emotions about the matches for all to see. No one had a greater love for the competition or greater respect for it. In short, he needed no assistance or counseling to get “up” for the matches.

Larry Nelson has been overlooked too many times. If he was promised decades ago that he would be given the job, it is high time that PGA officials make good on their word.

I interviewed Nelson back in 1982 when, as the defending PGA champion, he played in a Media Day event at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa. Nelson took the time to dissect Southern Hills for reporters, pointing out key holes where a stray shot or a careless putt could spoil an opportunity for a solid round or cost a player the chance at a PGA Championship. He was gracious and friendly. He also shot a 64 that day.

I like Nelson. He comes across as someone capable of finding a proper balance in the chemistry of 12-man team of large egos and high expectations. There is a place for rah-rah guys and for motivators. But Larry Nelson has the sort of calm, cool intensity that could prove no less prove valuable as a captain than as a player.

It is too late for the next Ryder Cup. But let us hope that the PGA finally makes good on its promise at some point. Nelson has been waiting long enough for the telephone to ring.

Double eagle

Jim Puckett hit the shot of his life last week in a match against Don Brister and Art Dahms at Patricia Island Golf Course in Grove, Okla.

His partner was Linda Brister. Puckett, by virtue of his handicap, was allowed to play from the red teeing area.

“I told Art I was going to make a birdie ...,” Puckett said. “I hit a decent drive down the left side of the fairway(about 235 yards out), giving me 205 to the front pin placement.”

Puckett smashed a 3-hybrid. When the group reached the green they couldn’t find the ball. “We all looked for a time. ... I asked everyone if they had looked in the hole and they replied no. I was going to play a trick on them by pulling a ball out of my pocket and had my hand squeezed around the ball ... when I looked down into the hole to see my ball.

“I just realized I made a 2 on the hole.”

Brister asked if Puckett would be embarrassed to tell his friends that he had hit from the red tees.

“I told him it is still a double eagle, no matter which tees I hit it from.“

He’s correct. A double eagle is still a double eagle and still the more lowest percentage shot in the game. Congrats!

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