WORLD GOLF HALL OF FAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 19, 2006
JANE FADER: Good afternoon. My name is Jane Fader. I am the director of communications for the World Golf Hall of Fame. I'd like to welcome those media here in the room at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf tournament in Savannah, Georgia. We'd also like to welcome those of you who are joining us by phone. To get started today, I'd like to introduce Rick George, who is the president of the Champions Tour.
RICK GEORGE: Welcome to those of you who are here and those of you that are on the phone listening in. The Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf is a fitting place to have this announcement. With ten members of the World Golf Hall of Fame in the field this week, it's pretty fitting that we're doing this here. I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge and thank Liberty Mutual for their support of this event and the Champions Tour now for over 25 years, the second longest sponsor in golf. With that I'd like to welcome and introduce our Hall of Fame members that are in attendance; a 2004 inductee with two PGA TOUR wins, Mr. Charlie Sifford; a 2004 inductee with 19 PGA TOUR victories and eight Champions Tour victories, Mr. Tom Kite; a 2002 inductee with 20 worldwide wins, Mr. Tony Jacklin; a 1992 inductee with 20 PGA TOUR wins and 44 Champions Tour victories, Mr. Hale Irwin; and a 1977 inductee with 38 LPGA wins, past president of the LPGA, she currently serves as the member ambassador for the World Golf Hall of Fame, Ms. Carol Mann. Now I'd like to introduce the senior vice president and chief operating officer of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Mr. Jack Peter.
JACK PETER: Thank you, Rick. Good afternoon, everybody. Ladies and gentlemen, those of you listening on the phone, welcome. I also would like to thank the folks from Liberty Mutual. It's good to be back. We were here a couple of years ago, and it's much appreciated and this is a great venue for this announcement, as Rick said. Just to refresh everyone's memories, there are five avenues into Hall of Fame. Two of them are elected avenues, PGA TOUR ballot and international ballot. The LPGA has a points-based criteria system. Then there are two discretionary categories called lifetime achievement and the veterans' categories. Today we're going to announce the 2006 veterans' category selection and the results of the PGA TOUR ballot. There's a couple of items before we get to the announcements. On the international ballot, no candidate received the percentage necessary this year to be elected. Therefore we will not be inducting someone from the international ballot this year. Further, we will make an announcement for the results of the lifetime achievement category later this spring or early summer, and we will make sure the appropriate media advisories are issued at that time. Lastly, there was no LPGA player that has qualified to date this year on the points system. Laura Davies is pretty close, but she's not quite there yet, so stay tuned for that. Some housekeeping, the Hall of Fame induction ceremony is scheduled for Monday, October 30th, in St. Augustine, and Vijay Singh, who was elected last year and decided to defer his induction to this year, will be present, as well. That takes care of the announcements and the housekeeping. So the first thing we want to do is talk about the veterans' category, and the board of directors and the selection committee this year has selected Henry Picard for induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in the veterans category. I had a chance to speak with Larry Picard, Sr., yesterday who resides in Summerville, South Carolina. He wanted to be here, but they had previous scheduled plans that they couldn't get out of. He's looking forward to becoming part of the Hall of Fame on behalf of his father, and he's looking forward to meeting all of us later on this fall, so it's an exciting time for them. At this time I'd like to invite our next inductee to join us on the stage while I introduce him to those of you on the phone. Ladies and gentlemen, elected via the PGA TOUR ballot with 65 percent of the vote, please welcome Larry Nelson. Larry has a long and illustrious resume. I'm not going to go through all of it, but ten PGA victories including three major championships, the 1981 and 1987 PGA Championships; the 1983 U.S. Open; a member of the '79, '81 and '87 Ryder Cup teams; 19 Champions Tour victories to date, and still going strong. Larry, welcome to the Hall of Fame. Before I hand it over for questions from the media, I'd like you to take a minute to tell us how you feel and how you felt about the news of your election. Congratulations.
LARRY NELSON: Well, what kind of emotions do you feel when you get the call? I was just flooded with all sorts of feelings. You never know exactly how you're going to react to any given thing as far as news about something like this. I've had to keep quiet for about three weeks, which was the hardest thing to do, not knowing exactly how emotional I would get when I actually had the opportunity to say something to the media, but all I can say is it's just been a very emotional three weeks for me, reflecting back on 30 years out here. But to see some of these guys, I really appreciate these guys being here today; it really means a lot to me to have your peers, guys that you competed with and against for 30 years that have been honored in this way, to be able to sit up here with them and to actually have a chance to talk to the media about being voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame just sometimes kind of leaves you speechless. I'm very appreciative of the people who voted and just excited to be a part of it. I'm really looking forward to doing all I can to promote the World Golf Hall of Fame, also.
Q. The last three weeks have you felt any different, any changes in the way you've looked back on your playing career?
LARRY NELSON: I don't think so. I think the only thing that I've felt is, is it really real? Because I've had so many questions last over the last few years, three years, that when I actually got the call saying I got enough votes to get in, it still doesn't seem that that's necessarily true.
I think not until I get in front of everyone in St. Augustine will it actually feel like it's real. I'm kind of living in a little bit of a dream world right now, which is really nice. Both my wife Gayle and my sons, we are kind of going through this day-to-day. She doesn't know how emotional she's going to get when she actually can start telling people. My mom, my two sons and the person that worked for me for 15 years and the guy that ministers to us out here on the Tour are the only people I've told. I figure they can keep a secret. Now that we're actually able to tell people, I think it's going to become a lot more real at this point.
Q. Who was it hardest keeping it from?
LARRY NELSON: Gee, everybody would call and ask (laughter), what do you think this year? Will this be the year or whatever. You don't want to lie to them, especially when you knew it was going to be this year. We were just saying, yeah, it's going to come out pretty soon; the announcement will come out pretty soon and we're extremely hopeful (laughter).
Q. Just talk about what your reaction was when you heard from your fellow Hall of Famers.
LARRY NELSON: It's really hard to put into words. I don't know of too many people that really feel that they necessarily deserve to be in here. They're hopeful that they will be elected, but to get the appreciation or the welcome from guys who have accomplished even a lot more than you have, for them to kind of say welcome, to me it's like winning a major as far as I'm concerned.
Of all the awards, of all the things that I've ever had, there's nothing that can actually top this, and especially with the people here that have kind of gone that route before me.
Q. A lot of people have a hard time figuring out remembering back to when they first started the game. You're 25 or 22 years old, two tours of duty in Vietnam, reading the Ben Hogan book. What was going on in your life at that time and what created the type of player you ended up becoming?
LARRY NELSON: It was out of necessity. I needed something to make money; that was the biggest motivating factor. When I started playing golf, it was pretty much just happenstance. I was working at a club, I thought maybe this was going I was going to do. Didn't have any time -- well, had plenty of time. I had one subject left to finish school, and that was from 8:00 to 9:00 so I needed something to fill that time from 9:00 to 6:00 when Gayle got home.
Golf seemed like a logical thing. I started playing golf and I got better every day and just fell in love with it. I was always in a situation where everybody was better than I was. I either had to get better or find something else to do. The motivation of getting better and feeding my family was probably what kept me going.
I've had a lot of good people along the way that have kind of said, you're doing great, just keep working. There's no limit to what you can be if you want to work hard enough, so those people I'm really actually excited about coming down to see me accept this position.
Q. Larry, congratulations. I just wanted to know, you talked about the excitement, everyone asking you if this was the year. Did you ever feel like it would come, that you would get a chance to be in the Hall with these other great players?
LARRY NELSON: There were a lot of people that had asked me and said, well -- and a lot of people came up and said, well, you should be in. I don't know that I ever felt until I got enough votes that I really should be in. And I think in just the last two or three years had I really felt that that was even a possibility.
It's very exciting, especially when you get the phone call saying that you actually did get enough votes to get into the Hall of Fame. We're excited about the possibilities of actually telling somebody now. The hardest part was keeping this secret for about three weeks. I do feel since I got a number of votes to actually get in that maybe -- well, in their eyes, I do belong, so that's exciting to me.
Q. Congratulations, Larry. I have two questions. One, there was a lot of people who felt like you were unfairly overlooked as a Ryder Cup captain and then a couple years of not getting into the Hall of Fame. I'm wondering if you feel any sense of some recognition that was long overdue.
LARRY NELSON: It's kind of hard to answer. Somebody did ask me the other day if that would be -- this was one of the magazine people had asked me about the Hall of Fame and the Ryder Cup, and there is just no way to compare the two. This honor is so far greater than that, even though that would be such a different type of thing, but I don't even really relate the two. This has to do with my career; the Ryder Cup captaincy has to do with three or four people deciding who's going to be there for a year.
I'm really excited about the position, about being in the Hall of Fame, so I really don't even try to relate those two.
Q. Second, Larry, I wonder if you could fill us in on a timeline of when you got back from Vietnam, what led you to golf, and at what point in your career you thought you were capable of winning out here?
LARRY NELSON: I was actually in Vietnam when somebody told me that they played golf for a living. Up to that point I really thought it was a sissy sport. But the guy that told me hadn't shaved for about two weeks and he hadn't bathed in longer than that and he had an M-16 and I didn't want to tell him what I thought about golf.
I decided when I got back that I would kind of give it a try since I did have a lot of time going to school, was done by 9:00 o'clock, and to fill that area, golf seemed like a good thing to fill that area with. I got really good really quick. It really kind of surprised me, and I was always put in certain situations where I was always the low man, I was always the person who shot the highest score, but at a period of time when there were a lot of tournaments in Florida, and actually when I won the tournament at Inverary in 1979 I felt like maybe I do belong here.
But you people in the press, you're relentless. If you win one tournament, they ask you when is your next one. I remember when I won the U.S. Open in '83, the first thing someone said is congratulations on being the '83 U.S. Open champion, and the second question was how do you think you're going to do in the British. Winning that U.S. Open lasted for about five minutes.
So I'm excited, have been excited. Ever since I won the Jackie Gleason Inverary Classic in 1979, it seems to have been a progression for I guess around 20 years.
Q. Where did you play your golf when you started playing? What course was that?
LARRY NELSON: Pine Tree Country Club in Kennesaw, Georgia, is where I learned to play.
Q. Larry, your branch of the service was the Army, correct?
LARRY NELSON: Yes, it was.
Q. What was your rank at the time you left the service?
LARRY NELSON: I was an E-5, buck sergeant.
Q. Do you recall, the gentleman that you said told you about playing golf for a living over there, do you remember his name and the extent of his professional experience?
LARRY NELSON: He went to Miami Dade Junior College. His name was Ken Hummel. Actually I would see him every time I go down to play in Miami, he would come out. He was teaching at that point. I think he was teaching high school and he had a bunch of his kids that he would bring out when we played down at Royal Caribbean.
Q. But he had had some professional experience? Was it mini-Tours, do you know?
LARRY NELSON: I don't think he ever played professionally. I'm not sure, but I don't think he ever did. I think he gave it up when he got out of the service.
Q. Did you think you would be good at this because you had been a good baseball player? Did you think golf would come easy because you had been an athlete in other sports?
LARRY NELSON: I really never thought I was good enough.
Q. But at the time were you optimistic because you had been a pretty good baseball player?
LARRY NELSON: I think I was optimistic because I could really throw the ball pretty good from 2nd to 1st and short to 1st and I think my swing related more to throwing the ball underhanded or side-armed than actually hitting a baseball. That's kind of how the swing kind of took up.
To me, pitching, I pitched from the time I was about five years old, I think pitching relates more to golf as far as the mental aspect than anything because you're standing up there with a 3&2 count, bases loaded, and you've got a guy who's a pretty good hitter. You kind of have to forget about everything else.
It's kind of like standing over a 10-footer on the last hole to win a tournament. The guys who actually do it are guys who say we have to hit the best putt we can hit. They can't think about the outcome.
I think pitching baseball probably helped me as much in my golf career as anything, and I think being over in Vietnam for a while put life in perspective a little bit, so I think a combination of those really helped me do what I do now.
Q. Hopefully this Hall of Fame induction will last a little longer than the U.S. Open victory celebration. Back to the criteria of the Hall of Fame, the LPGA has a points-based system and a lot of people have criticized -- I don't know if that's the right word, but pointed at the popularity contest, or last year Vijay got in when his name was very high profile at the time and you clearly were in position to get in. I'm wondering about your thoughts about the Hall of Fame selection committee and maybe going to a points-based system and how the LPGA's kind of works that way, just your general thoughts on that.
LARRY NELSON: Honestly I don't know enough about how that works. I've seen a ballot that goes out. I don't know enough who has those, who actually votes on it. I'm probably not the person to ask. I'm certainly happy the way it turned out this year (laughter). You know, I think the goal of that committee, I think the goal of the Hall of Fame is to get the people who really belong in there, and I don't know that any system is absolutely perfect, but again, I'm just certainly happy it turned out in my favor this year.
Q. Larry, you learned a lot from the Ben Hogan book Five Fundamentals of Golf. Can you talk about that book, what you learned from it and what it means to be in the Hall of Fame where Ben Hogan and others are honored?
LARRY NELSON: The book, actually Bert Seagraves, who I worked for for two years as an assistant, really enjoyed Ben Hogan, the way he swung the club, and said that probably the best thing for me to do is to read this book if I was going to learn how to play. And of course my swing doesn't look anything like Ben Hogan's swing, but the fundamentals in that book I think really helped me as far as the right leg, left leg, the grip, all that. I think the basic things really helped me.
But I think where I learned most about the swing itself was actually from Irv Schloss down in St. Petersburg, and a probably a name a lot of people don't know or don't remember, but he had all the great players on a graph check camera and really showed what all those players did the same, so I figured if I could do what all those players did the same that maybe if I had any talent at all that at least I'd have a good chance of playing well. That's kind of how I went about learning the swing itself, and I think there was a second part to that question.
Q. Let me give you a different one. Do you still have that copy of that book, and will that be one of the items you may donate to the Hall of Fame for your exhibit?
LARRY NELSON: Actually for a little while Ben Hogan or the publishers of this Ben Hogan book actually put in the cover, in the back or the jacket of it, that Larry Nelson learned how to play from that book, and I had Mr. Hogan sign a copy of it for me, so that's really been a treasure for me. I'll definitely put it in the Hall.
JANE FADER: I think that concludes the Q & A portion of this. I want to thank all of you for participating by phone and currently here in the room. Thank you, Mr. Nelson and your family for being here and the other Hall of Fame members. We have issued a press release via email and we have some press kits at the book of the room. A transcript of the press conference will be available on asapsports.com and photos will be available on pgatourimages.com.
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