Nick Price has been slow to find success on the Champions Tour, but he's confident he's headed in the right direction. (Photo: Getty Images)
Nick Price has been slow to find success on the Champions Tour, but he's confident he's headed in the right direction. (Photo: Getty Images)

Quality time with his family priceless for Price

After packing up his family and hauling them to golf tournaments all over the world for the past two decades, Nick Price figured he owed his wife and three children a lot. Even if it came at a steep price on the golf course.

By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- Before Tiger Woods took the golf world by storm with the famous, "Hello, world," press conference when he turned professional in 1996, there was another dominating force in the golfing world.

It was the mid-90s when Zimbabwean Nick Price made his mark as one of the game's finest. He was the PGA TOUR's leading money winner in 1993 and 1994 and spent 43 weeks on the top of the Official World Golf Rankings. In his Hall-of-Fame career, Price accumulated 21 top-10 finishes in major championships, including three wins -- the 1992 PGA Championship, followed by back-to-back major titles at the 1994 British Open and PGA Championship.

On Jan. 28, 2007, a new chapter began in Price's life -- a rebirth, if you will. That was the day he turned 50 years old and thus became eligible for the Champions Tour.

Many expected that like Jay Haas, Loren Roberts and Hale Irwin before him, Price would be an instant phenom. So far, that hasn't happened.

In six starts since hitting the big five-oh, Price has three top-25 finishes, including a season-best tie for seventh in late April at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf.  

So what gives?

"I started struggling with my game in the summer of 2005. I was struggling with consistency and that's been my biggest letdown," he said. "I always took pride in that consistency is what my game was really well-known for. I'll hit five or six good shots and then follow it up with two or three bad ones. That's what's really stopping me from getting better. Having said that, my game has improved over the last two months. It's gotten better. I think that's a result of A. playing on courses that aren't too long for me and B. I'm settling in there."

Price pointed out that not every PGA TOUR star has started his career on the Champions Tour "with guns-a-blazing," citing Tom Kite and Tom Watson, as well as a few others, as examples.

"Instead, they had what I call a 'soft start' to their Champions Tour careers, but they settled in and got more comfortable," Price said. "I'm not expecting miracles. I know that I've got to put in a little more work if I'm going to start competing, but all in all I've had a couple of weeks out here where I've shown some very strong signs. All in all, I'm headed in the right direction. It's the transition stage, which you experience whenever you go from one tour to another."

Perhaps the most obvious explanation for Price's struggles is the alignment of his priorities. It's not as much about him and his golf anymore as it is about spending time with his family.

"Since about 2003 is when it started," Price said. "My son, at that stage, was 11 and the two girls were nine and six. I dragged my kids around the world following me play golf for so long. I took them to Europe to the British Open, or here for the U.S. Open during their summer vacations, which really wasn't much of a summer vacation. So my wife and I decided, pretty much, that I would start taking the summers off -- July and August. That way I could spend at least six out of 11 weeks holiday with them and we'd always do a trip each year. The kids usually go to camp the first two weeks in June, which allows me to play a little bit, but in July and August, I really wanted to spend time with the kids, so that's what we started doing."

Because of his dedication to family, Price said he's broken his year up into two semesters, playing January through July, and then taking the two months off before going hard at it from September through November.

When he's not playing golf, or spending time with the family, Price is busy with his course design company. He has a few projects going on now and will begin two more in the coming weeks. He estimates that for each site, he makes 10-14 visits, sometimes as long as three days each visit.

"My year is pretty full," he said. "It's not like I'm not doing anything. It's just different priorities now. The thing that's suffered the most is my golf. I just haven't had the continuity that I have to have to play better, but I've had my cake and I've eaten it for so long that it's time that I give back to my family a little bit and I don't think I'd want it any other way now."

There aren't a lot of things when it comes to the game of golf that Price is able to experience for the first time in his life these days. But, this week provides one of them. He's here at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course to take his first crack at a major championship on the Champions Tour in the 68th Senior PGA Championship.

While everyone here surely wants to be the winner at week's end, there's a significant difference between the moods on the range at a major championship on the PGA TOUR versus the Champions Tour.

On the PGA TOUR, players are dialed in every week, but particularly at the majors. They practice with their heads down, hitting shot after shot trying to find that one swing thought that will propel them to the level they've always dreamed of.

On the Champions Tour ... well, take the range here at Kiawah Island. It hugs the breathtaking coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. And on a cloudless day, the attitude of players on the range here more resembles what you're likely to find whacking balls minutes before a Saturday morning scramble at a local muni -- horrible outfits and all. There's no doubt these guys can make the ball talk still, but they're loose. They joke around. They hit a shot, chat for a few minutes and then hit another shot.

"The majority of the players out here have been there and done that," Price said, explaining the differences between the two tours. "They're still out here playing competitively, but it's not the end of the world if they don't play well. So the attitude amongst the players is a lot more carefree. They're still competitive, don't get me wrong. But it's not like, 'this is the last week of the end of my life.' This is about enjoying yourself.

"It's a wonderful place to play golf. There's very little aggravation and very little animosity out here. Guys laugh more than they beat clubs and lose their temper. We've all been around the block, so it's not like we don't know each other's games. There's a lot of ribbing and reminiscing going on. There's a lot of humor in the locker room, which is good. It's not about guys walking in and saying, 'well, I shot 80.' Guys here don't really care what you shoot. They just want to hear the next good joke you've got, or something funny that happened to you today. That's the big difference."

Despite all that, Price sure would love to hoist the trophy come late Sunday afternoon. On Wednesday, he played the back nine in an intense wind and said that with all the acute angles on the course, coupled with some of the fiercest bunkering he's ever seen, it's playing very hard.

"And along with all that, a lot of the greens are elevated, or built up," he said. "So the ball, especially in the wind, gets repelled off the green and it's very hard when the green's elevated to run the ball onto the greens. You're forced to throw the ball onto the green and then you're at the mercy of the wind, whereas at links courses you can bounce the ball 30 or 40 yards short of the green and run it up and play in the wind."

With that, Price says despite the 7,200 yards of the Ocean Course, this is a venue for shot-makers and it's particularly important to keep drives in the fairway.

"I haven't driven the ball well the last couple of days," he admitted. "I drove it a little better on the last few holes of the back nine today. If I can get my driving right, because there's a premium on accuracy off the tee, that's going to be the big thing for me is to drive the ball in the fairway. I think if I drive the ball into a high percentage of the fairways this week I'll hopefully have a chance."

And if not, he'll be joking around with the boys in the clubhouse, just a few weeks away from spending two months with the family.

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