He won three majors the right way, in that he never sacrificed his family to the god of professional golf. He earned more than $1.5 million on the Senior Tour in 1999, and his status as a 52-year-old whippersnapper only hints of more success to come.
Some People like to talk about family values. Larry Nelson lives them. He truly loves his wife, Gayle, and sons Drew and Josh more than anything else on earth. In fact, he says that spending time with Drew, 23, and Josh, 21, is his hobby. He did this even while he was winning his two PGA Championships in 1981 and 1987 and his U.S. Open in 1983.
"I spent a lot of time with them when they were growing up," Nelson said. "I coached both of their baseball teams and soccer teams. I really enjoyed the time with them.
"I read somewhere that at no time does anybody ever look back and say 'Gee, I wish would have spent more time at my job.' Most of the time they say 'I wish I would have spent more time with my children.' That has stuck with me throughout their lives."
Drew has turned out to be a caddie for his father. "It's really fun to have the time with him," Larry said. "He's a good player in his own right and has hopes of making it on the tour one day."
Josh has been busy with his studies at Auburn University. He shares his father's love for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Golf Ministry; Josh will be working this summer as an intern in the office of FCA Golf Ministry Director Dean Bouzeos.
In 1999 he checked in at No. 4 with $ 1,513,524 in earnings.
"My game has not been where I would like it in pretty much all the areas," he said. "You kind of run into little droughts every once in awhile in your golf game, and this year it just happened early. I've usually started off pretty well in Florida, but this year hasn't been quite what I would have liked. But it is a long year, and I'm going to keep working. I'm sure I'll find that little key or something that I'm missing."
Why has Nelson been so steady over the years? He is quick to quote the wisdom of Philippians 4:6-7: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." His saving faith in Christ Jesus revolves around verses such as these.
"I think that probably has kept me going, both business-wise and golf-wise - kept me from not being too concerned about outcome," he said.
Nelson converted to Christianity in the mid-1970's after Dr. Billy Graham challenged him to read John and Romans. Dr. Graham issued that challenge at a Bible study for touring pros; it all came together for Nelson as he picked up a Bible in a motel room in San Diego. Down through the years, he and the FCA Golf Ministry have been a natural fit.
" FCA has really given me a lot of support," Nelson said. "It has provided me with a lot of friends that kind of check on me, pray for me and really encourage me."
"His love for the Lord, his love and care for his family, and seeing his golf profession as an avenue of ministry all have been great, visible reminders of this man's commitment to the Lord," Bouzeos said.
Bouzeos and Nelson have teamed up this season to put together a consistent lineup of Senior Tour Bible Studies. Knowing how effective the FCA Golf Ministry has been, Nelson asked Bouzeos to help.
"I think that there is an opportunity for freshness and a renewal in some of the guys, and actually a new beginning in some others," Nelson said. "With the emphasis on evangelism, fellowship and study, I really think that can happen."
More and more golfers are thinking about heaven and hell these days in light of the shocking death of Payne Stewart. When Stewart's Learjet inexplicably lost cabin pressure at some 30,000 feet before finally crashing that day in South Dakota, golfers got concerned. Nelson for instance, flies back and forth to his events on the same type of Lear 35.
"In talking with all the private pilots that fly that plane, you just really don't understand how it happened," Nelson said. "They do everything to prevent that type of thing. We won't know until we get to heaven what God's intent was in this, but from what I can understand, on the PGA Tour it had quite an impact. A lot of people are asking questions about their future and where they're going to spend eternity that they may never have asked before."
Nelson knew Stewart as a fellow believer in Christ, and their careers on the PGA Tour also overlapped. Nelson, who built an outstanding 9-3-1 record in Ryder Cup matches, got to know Stewart fairly well when they both played on the 1987 United States team.
'He actually used a practice device that I invented years ago," Nelson said. "He carried it around with him everywhere he went. I wouldn't say that we were real good friends, but we definitely were friends. It was quite a loss."
Nelson is a man of few words. Unlike Fuzzy Zoeller, who becomes eligible for the Senior Tour in 2001, or natural entertainers like Lee Trevino and Gary McCord, Nelson plays it straight. Reporters often categorize him as a good golfer with a quiet personality. Here is his theory on that:
"I was told early on that you don't need to speak unless you have something to say," he said. "Everybody who knows me knows that I'm not quiet if I feel like my input is necessary, but I've never been one to talk just for talking. I feel like I learn a lot more by listening."
Home is where his heart has been. This has been his lifestyle.
"The way I've spent the last 23 years, somebody asked me what my hobbies were and I said, 'Well, it's actually spending time with my kids.' Whatever activities they're involved in, I enjoy being a part of them, or watching them.
'I take all of the opportunities I can when I'm off to try to make myself available."
-Reprinted by Permission, Sharing the Victory.