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August 14, 2001

Larry Nelson


JULIUS MASON: Good afternoon, again, ladies and gentlemen. Larry Nelson joining us, two-time PGA champion, including the '81 PGA at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Larry is playing in his 24th PGA Championship. Larry, thanks for coming down. If you would not mind giving us some opening comments and then we'll go to Q&A.

LARRY NELSON: I've been asked a lot in the last, gee, six months about how this golf course has changed in the last 20 years, and actually the trees have gotten bigger and it's gotten a little bit longer. But other than that, it pretty much has the same look that it did, you know, 20 years ago. I think the water is a little closer to some of the par 3s, but for the most part, I think it is going to be pretty much the same golf course with the exception of an additional 300 yards in length. But I think with the difference in equipment and strength of the players today, I don't think it is going to play any longer.

JULIUS MASON: Thank you very much. Questions, folks.

Q. Can you reflect back on 20 years ago, it was a wonderful year for you not just winning the PGA but a great year in the Ryder Cup. Tell us about those two events and the PGA of America.

LARRY NELSON: I think to be able to win the PGA Championship in '81, really, actually got me on the Ryder Cup team in '81, in the fall. I wanted to play again since I had played in 1979 at Greenbrier and was undefeated there and had a chance to, I think, be a part of one of the best Ryder Cup teams that there ever was, when you go back to the records of all of the individuals who played in 1981. For that, I feel like winning here in 1981 and then being a part of that team in September was the highlight of my career.

Q. Was there a difference -- you say you played in 1979 and 1983 as well. '83 you went over there, '79 was home field advantage. Difference in crowd or experiences?

LARRY NELSON: I think Ryder Cup then was not quite what it is today for whatever reason. The crowds in '79 were not very -- not very big at the Greenbrier. Of course, Greenbrier is out in the middle of nowhere. Playing here, you don't have the same team camaraderie as you do when you go overseas. It's just, you know, you're kind of isolated and your team is about all you have as far as friends go. For that reason, I think being a part of that was very special.

Q. You're a member here. Have any of the other guys come up to you and asked you about the golf course, asked you any advice, anything like that?

LARRY NELSON: No, not really. I am a member here. When I won in 1981, they gave me an honorary membership, but I have only played once in 20 years, and it was in a Pro-Am, I think about a year after, so it would have been 1982. I know they have done a lot of changing over the last 20 years. They have worked on the golf course at least twice during that time. So I don't have any local knowledge on this course. The only thing that I like about it is that it has fairways, it has bermudagrass fairways and bentgrass greens, and I have always been very successful with that combination.

Q. Are you still thinking about playing down the road?

LARRY NELSON: I didn't play at Valderrama last year at the PGA. It was the first year I missed the PGA since I played in my first one, 24 years, because the golf course was just not fitting for me, plus I was having such a good year on the Senior Tour, taking that week off was probably not a good thing for me as far as the Senior Tour goes. But it was a combination of things last year. This year, I wanted to come back and play here, kind of defending after 20 years, I guess. I wish it had been a little closer to that 1981 mark. But being able to come back here after 20 years, even though your body gets a little older and you're probably not the same as you were 20 years ago, it doesn't seem like that length of time has passed. I still feel like that I have a chance to play well here, and I really would not play unless I felt like I had a chance to win. I know, you know, coming from an almost 54-year-old guy that that sounds almost a little bit strange. But I feel like in a lot of cases, my game is better than it was in 1981, but I think the players as a whole are probably better in 2001, so I know the competition is a little bit more difficult.

Q. Do you see yourself still wanting to go play in another PGA after this or would you like for this to be your last one in your hometown?

LARRY NELSON: No. I wouldn't -- I don't know where next year's PGA is. Where is it next year?

JULIUS MASON: Hazeltine National.

LARRY NELSON: Hazeltine. I might play there next year. We have a senior event that's the week before in Minneapolis, so I could spend two weeks there in Minneapolis and play. I would not play in the PGA if I didn't feel like I could be competitive. I think when that happens, it won't necessarily be after this week, but it could be after this week. I'll just have to kind of wait and see how I feel each year going into the PGA. But I'm definitely not going to take anybody's spot if I feel like I can't compete.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about what it's like to play here in Atlanta? And talking to some of the other local pros, they talk about the distractions with fans and friends and take etc. and all of that and some people say it is a positive and some it is a negative. Can you talk a little bit about that?

LARRY NELSON: Yeah, it's good if you live in Atlanta and don't have any friends or family. That's okay. I think from my standpoint, I won in Atlanta three times. I won the Atlanta Classic twice and won the PGA here, so apparently, it is not that big of a distraction. I think it works if you are playing well -- it can be really a benefit and a lift. If you are playing poorly, it can drag you down real quick. For the Atlanta Classic, I either won or missed the cut so there was hardly any in between. I think there are distractions, but most of the guys who have friends or family who are professionals and do this for a living, they know after Wednesday, leave them alone, and that is pretty much what's happened with me over the years. We do all of our entertaining friendship stuff, family stuff prior to Thursday. But after the tournament starts, they realize that we are starting to work and they pretty much were respectful of our time.

Q. Just reflect a little bit on the kind of year you've had on the Senior Tour this year compared to the last couple. It's odd that you won three majors on the regular tour but no majors yet on the Senior Tour. Talk about that a little bit, please.

LARRY NELSON: This year has been an up-and-down year. I won the first two events on the Senior Tour; and then two of the last four events I played in, I won. It's just been kind of that way. I don't know if that has to do with muscle memory or what, but it seemed like my game has come and gone at different times during the year. As far as winning 15 times on the Senior Tour and none of those majors, even though I probably finished second in the majors ten times over that period of time, our majors on the Senior Tour are not much different than any other tournaments, as far as condition, that kind of thing. This year was the first year at the U.S. Open, Senior Open, that the golf course had some rough. Most of the time we play golf courses that are set up for 70-year-old guys. So if you happen to be playing good that week, then that's fine. But other than the significance of the fact that it is named major on the Senior Tour, there's not much difference than the other tournaments. It just happens to be that of the 15 tournaments I have won, it happened to not be those weeks. But the majors, really, don't have any significance in that my game was not in shape for the major tournaments out there. It just happened to be that I've played well, somebody played better, or I just wasn't playing well during that stretch. Our majors, I think, come in about a two-month period of time and if you are not playing really good then, then you miss a lot of our majors. It's a lot different out here where they are spread from April to August.

Q. If our records are correct, your first major was here at the 1976 U.S. Open. Can you talk about the process of taking the game up a little bit later than most, and then leading you into your first Grand Slam event in Atlanta, what that process was like, and then playing that week?

LARRY NELSON: I think it's -- well, when I started playing golf, nobody in my family had ever played golf before. None of my uncles, aunts, brothers, mother, father, anybody. Golf was a whole new sport to our family. When I started playing golf at age 21, I didn't do it to actually come out here and be competitive on the Tour. I did it as a form of passing time from 9:00 in the morning until 6:00 in the afternoon when my wife got home. I only had one subject to finish school, and I was through with it 9:00, so I didn't have anything to do until 6:00, so I started playing golf at a local club up in Kennesaw, Georgia. Then I played there for almost six months, and it got better. I mean, I got a lot better in that short period of time. The assistant professional left and left an opening, and I was enrolled in Georgia Tech to finish my four-year degree. When the job opened up, I just asked the professional if I could work, since I couldn't do anything else, I could work for him as an assistant. I did that for two years. Applied for a club professionals job. Didn't get it. I was disappointed. Some of the members at Pine Tree said, "Why don't you go play?" And I went down to Tampa and played for about a year, won three or four different tournaments in Tampa, qualified for the Tour my first year. When I was talking to my wife about going to the qualifying school she said, "What's that?" So we were very unfamiliar with the game. I found myself just starting the game, qualifying for the Tour, and then playing against Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus in just a very short period of time. Thankfully, I got better, it seemed like I wasn't good enough at each level I found myself in, but I seem to have gotten better at each level and gotten as good as anybody.

Q. We had Duval in here a minute ago and he was talking about how much he is looking forward to his pairing with Tiger in the first two days. In 1981, you talked about your pairing with Fuzzy. How has that benefitted you to keep things loose even though it was a very stressful atmosphere? Can you reflect on that day, any moments where he played a part in your win or shots that stand out in your mind?

LARRY NELSON: The biggest part he played in my win was he played really well on the front side and he kept pressing me on the front. Both of us made birdie on the ninth hole, and that kind of really gave me the confidence I needed going into the back side. This golf course played very difficult in 1981, and I felt like that if I went out and played decent that I was far enough ahead that someone had to shoot a really good score and the course record, I think, was 4-under, and it had already been shot twice that week. I didn't figure anybody would shoot 65 the last day I felt like having a four-shot lead, nobody could go out and shoot 65. Fuzzy did play well on the front. I've always talked to people, having a four-shot lead going into 15, 16, 17 and 18 is not safe. There will be no lead that is save going into the last four holes here at the Atlanta Athletic Club. So for that reason, I think it is going to be a very exciting tournament. I don't think many people are going to be out of it if they are within four or five shots going into the last four or five holes. Getting by those four holes in 1981 gave me probably more for the long term than it did for that day in the fact that I had the confidence to know that I could withstand pressure on a very difficult golf course. Probably as demanding as any of them that we play, and gave me a lot of confidence going forward.

Q. I'd like to go back to the golf course. Why is 15, 16, 17, and 18 so tough? And the changes that they have made to 18 make it a lot tougher. Tiger said he hit 3-iron in today so I don't think there will be a lot of 5-irons like Jerry hit?

LARRY NELSON: I hope he hit driver off the tee, because that means a lot of us can't get there. 18 is 30 yards longer than it was in 1981. And 16 is 20, 25 yards longer than it was. 15 was long enough, but I think they have got another tee there that they can stretch is back to 220 or something like that. They added 40 yards to 16. We were hitting 6-irons into that hole in 1981, so you putt for 40 yards, unless you hit it longer than you used to, you are going to be hitting a long iron or wood to an elevated green, and it is not a very big green. So with the addition, or the difficulty with 15, which will probably be 3- or 4-iron, 5-iron for most of the long hitters, pretty much all over water. 17, the same way; par 3 that's 220, 230 all over water. Then 18, you don't have room to miss it left or right. If you hit it right, you hit it in the bunkers; or if you hit it left, you are in the water. So unless you are in the fairway you are in trouble. If Tiger hit 3-iron into the last hole, that means I would be hitting 3-wood in there, at best, unless I had to lay up. So I think those four holes with the combination of water, length will be the hardest four finishing holes that we have seen in a major championship in a long time. Plus, 16 fairway looks like you are hitting it to, you know, a bowling alley. It is not very wide.

JULIUS MASON: Questions? Thanks very much, Larry.

LARRY NELSON: Thank you.

End of FastScripts...

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