Nelson recalls historic victory in 1987 PGA
The 2012 PGA Championship marks the 25th anniversary of Larry Nelson's victory in the 1987 PGA Championship. PGA TOUR Media Official Dave Senko sat down with Nelson to explore what it meant to him and his family.
Q: This is the 25th anniversary of your 1987 PGA Championship at PGA National. Could you talk a little bit about what you recall about that win? I know some of the things I've read mentioned that the heat was such a factor that week. What do you remember about that?
LARRY NELSON: Well, I remember that actually the year before, I decided I was going to try to get in shape. So when I went down to the PGA Championship down in West Palm Beach, I was probably in the best shape I had ever been, I guess. I think that was definitely a factor, especially in that I had played the week before in Memphis, and I think it was even hotter there. But yes, the conditions were definitely a factor, and I think maybe I just outlasted everybody.
Q: I read somewhere, I think in Sports Illustrated that you may never had the outright lead on Sunday, but that one of the keys, I guess, for you, was you were making kind of a steady number of pars and some other guys were making bogeys. Is that pretty accurate?
LARRY NELSON: I think that was pretty accurate, yes. It was the kind of a day that everybody kind of fell by the wayside. I think I shot either 71 or 72, even par or 1 over, I think, and everybody kind of went in the opposite direction. But I know I made a birdie on 17 and actually took the lead there the last day and then just kind of waited to see what everybody was going to do finishing.
Q: Was there one particular shot or a shot during Sunday's final round that was memorable either that final day or perhaps earlier in the tournament that might have been crucial?
LARRY NELSON: I think the one I remember most was actually the birdie putt I made on 17. I know that Ben Crenshaw, I believe, had his marker about three or four feet from the hole, and he asked me if I wanted him to move it, and I said, no, that's actually kind of where I need to be rolling it over, and it was kind of a good and I rolled it right over his coin and the ball went in the hole. That's kind of the most memorable part of that.
Q: You had several victories on the PGA TOUR. Where does this one rank in importance for you?
LARRY NELSON: Well, I think it did three things for me that week. One, after working out, trying to get in better shape, it just kind of told me that it had paid off. Two, winning there got me in the Ryder Cup that year, in '87. That was the only way I was going to make the team was by winning the PGA. And then the third was it was ten days before I turned 40, so that meant I was exempt until ten days before I turned 50. So I think career-wise, it really meant a lot.
Q. You're one of the few players that have won three major championships on TOUR. Looking back, how special is it knowing that you have accomplished that?
LARRY NELSON: Well, you know it's really ... for me; it was a very great accomplishment having not grown up in the game and having started playing golf late. I always felt like my game was much more fitted to the major-type golf courses because I wasn't that great of a putter throughout my career, but I always hit my irons well and I always drove the ball well. So I felt that those were important and I probably had as good a chance winning those type tournaments as the regular TOUR.
Q: I read somewhere; perhaps you could clarify this for me, that your win in 1981 also got you a spot on the Ryder Cup team. Is that correct?
LARRY NELSON: Let's see, I made the '79 Ryder Cup team off points. In '81 you know, I'm not sure if I was. It possibly may have gotten me on the Ryder Cup, yes, in '81. So I can't remember. But I won the PGA that year so I guess it did that year. I do know that the win in '87 did. I won the U.S. Open in '83 and didn't get on the Ryder Cup team that year.
Q: Did you have any of your family there when you won at Palm Beach Gardens?
LARRY NELSON: Yes, my wife and my two sons were both there. I think Drew was 12 and Josh was 10 and they watched the whole thing the playoff and the presentation. I think it actually got them kind of enthused about playing golf after that. So it was kind of the beginning of their golf careers, I guess.
Q: So the win gave them some kind of incentive to start playing the game?
LARRY NELSON: Right. Exactly.
Q: You beat Lanny [Wadkins], who's a Hall of Famer. How special was that?
LARRY NELSON: Well, it was special in that I think he and I both would have been happy. He was already on the ’87 Ryder Cup team and I think that was the first thing he said to me, "Congratulations and welcome to the Ryder Cup team” after I made the putt at the last hole or on the playoff hole. So I think he was sad that he didn't win, but I think he was happy that I possibly was going to be a teammate again.