The Way of an Eagle

by Bob Darden,
P. J. Richardson,
Robert Darden

 

 

 

Larry Nelson

For this southern gentleman, golf came just as naturally as his gentle Georgia drawl. Larry Nelson never played a round of golf until he returned from overseas military service. The first time he ever played, he broke 100. After a couple of years in junior college, he turned professional in 1971. By 1974 he had already finished in the top 100 in earnings.

Since then, Nelson has won ten tournaments: the Jackie Gleason-Inverray Classic (1979), the Western Open (1979), The Atlanta Classic (1980), the Greater Greensboro Open (1981), the PGA Championship (1981), the U.S. Open (1983), the Walt Disney World Golf Classic (1984), the PGA Championship (1987), the Walt Disney World/Oldsmobile Classic (1987), and the Georgia Pacific-Atlanta Classic (1988).

Along the way, Nelson's also played on three Ryder Cup teams (1979, 1981, and 1987), served as a Player Director of the PGA Tour Policy Board, won three major tournaments in Japan, and designed a few golf courses of his own.
But he isn't through yet. In 1994, he nearly won the Doral-Ryder Open--proving there's still plenty of golf left in Larry Nelson's sweet, picture-perfect swing.

I came from a church family; I've always gone to church. I was in church every Sunday morning and night and Wednesday night. I went to every service the church had, but that's all it was--church. I heard everything, but didn't take anything in.

It wasn't until one day in 1975 when my wife, Gayle, came home that anything changed. She'd heard Cindy Massengale, Rik Massengale's wife, at a tea some of the Christian wives hosted for the non-Christian wives. A couple of days after she heard Cindy, Gayle accepted Christ. I'd known my wie since she was two years old, and there was nobody I knew who was a better person than she was as far as being religious. So when she told me she'd accepted Christ as her personal Savior because of the sin in her life, I started questioning my position.

The year before, I'd heard Billy Graham speak in Charlotte. He'd said, "If you want to know what your relationship with the Lord should be or how to know if you have a proper relationship with Him, read the books of John and Romans."

Now, a year later, I was in a car wreck in norther California on Interstate 5. I got caught in a storm and was hit by a truck, so I couldn't play the next week. I ended up in a hotel room in San Diego. There was a little book entitled Love in that hotel room which was The Living Bible New Testament.

That night I remembered what Billy Graham had said a year earlier, to read John and Romans. Verse after verse spoke to me. I found Romans 3:23, which says, "But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." And then I found Romans 11:27: "At that time I will take away their sins, just as I promised."

So in that San Diego hotel room, one night in 1975, I asked Jesus Christ to come into my life. As a result of my wife's coming to know Christ a few weeks before in February, I asked Christ to come into my life as well.

Since then it has been good. Of course, the road has been rocky. Well, maybe not rocky--undulating, perhaps. That's true in any Christian walk. It is going to have its ups and downs, its failures and successes. Probably no truthful person, whether the failures are in their spirit, mind or body will deny that. No matter how spiritual you are, if your mind is not right, it is going to be very, very difficult.

An example would be that sometimes you have to work out emotional problems before you can actually be what the Lord wants you to be. For me, I think it is probably more that type of thing than anything else over the past twenty-something years I've been a Christian.

And I would hesitate to trust anyone who says they haven't had any problems!

Right now we got to Eastside Baptist Church in East Marietta, Georgia. We're new members there, but that's where we're going. Our children, Drew and Josh, really enjoy it.

It is different now on the Tour from when I first became a Christian. The first couple of guys that led the Bible study when I came out--Kermit Zarley, Rik Massengale, Wally Armstrong--all eventually left the Tour. Eventually, the Tour Bible study dwindled to just three of us: Don Pooley, Morris Hatalsky, and me. So we met for breakfast in a hotel room in Tuscon one year to decide whether or not we were going to end this thing or what we were going to do, because it was ridiculous for the three of us alone to keep it going.

So we prayed about it. We finally decided we needed to be specific. We said, "We need to pray for someone to come out who is in their late thirties or early forties, married with children. Someone who would come out for free and actually lead this thing!" This was essential because we felt like we really needed someone like this if the Bible study was going to survive. So we decided we would pray for this person to come out on Tour.

Larry Moody was the result of that prayer. To have someone who was in a ministry and could afford to come out--of course, we've tried to support the Moodys since--and who was that age, was married, had children, and who could still come out as much as he does, it was definitely an answer to prayer. And now at that same Bible study, there are some stops on the Tour where thirty to forty people will attend.

Memorable Moment

Probably my favorite memory comes from the point I was ready to quit the Tour completely because I was tired of playing. I simply wasn't getting anything out of it. So, at that point, my wife, Gayle, and I decided again to pray about it specifically. We went to our upstairs bedroom and prayed together. We asked whether I should continue to play--because I really wanted to do what the Lord wanted us to do.

We prayed for two things: We prayed for our children and my future.
We got an immediate answer. For our children, the answer was Don't worry about them--they're going to be okay. They weren't in any trouble or anything. We've just always prayed for them. It was very specific.

The answer to the other request, the one that asked whether or not I was to stay on the Tour, was just as clear as it could be: You stay out there.

It was--and still is--a struggle. But I committed to go ahead and work on my game. And after failure after failure, I won the PGA Championship in 1987. It was in a play-off with Lanny Wadkins at Palm Beach Gardens. I think it was the most rewarding thing that has ever happened to me. I thought I was going to win a tournament before that one. Nothing. But by winning the PGA Championship in 1987, I'm exempt until 1997--when I'm fifty years old and eligible for the Senior Tour!

Tip

All over the world, I have people ask me what is the most important thing in the golf swing. Well, even though the golf swing is made up of a lot of different body parts, different movements on different planes and stuff, to me the most important thing is the right leg.

The angle that the right leg creates with the ground during the "address position" needs to be maintained throughout the swing. The right knee can go straight back, but your right leg cannot move from side to side. It can't go away from the ball or toward the ball on the back swing; it has to stay at that same angle.

If you'll do this, it will eliminate your head movement, it will eliminate swaying, and it will get your weight in the right position where it's supposed to be. There's never been a great player who hasn't done all of that.

So if a golfer will work on their right leg, they'll improve their score, no matter what they do anywhere else. That is a given.

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