Nelson, Singh inducted into World Golf Hall of Fame
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Larry Nelson was either in the jungle or a rice paddy during his two years in the Vietnam War, enough time to learn the difference between a land leech and a water leech. Vijay Singh toiled in the rain forest of Borneo, giving golf lessons for $10 and spending every free minute working on his game.
Both took an unimaginable route to one of golf's greatest honors Monday night when they were inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, a celebration of blue-collar success.
"This is one of the biggest achievements in my life," Singh said.
Nelson, a squadron leader for the 198th Infantry, never touched a golf club until he returned from Vietnam. He went on to win three major championships, including the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont, and remains the only American to go 5-0 in a Ryder Cup.
Singh relied on a relentless work ethic as he worked his way out of Borneo, onto the European Tour and eventually to the United States where he rose to No. 1 in the world ranking by winning nine times in 2004, the highlight of an eventful career that brought him three majors and 29 victories on the PGA Tour.
They were inducted along with former Masters and PGA champion Henry Picard; Marilynn Smith, one of the 13 founders of the LPGA Tour who won 21 times and two majors; and Mark McCormack, who founded IMG and reshaped sports management with clients ranging from Arnold Palmer to Tiger Woods.
Their induction brings membership in the Hall of Fame to 114.
Nelson and Singh were elected on the PGA Tour ballot. Nelson received 65 percent of the vote, the minimum required.
Singh was elected last year with 56 percent of the vote, but deferred his induction because of a commitment to play overseas last year. He still got in because of a clause in the criteria that if no one received 65 percent the vote that year, the player with the most votes would be elected as long he got more than 50 percent.
No one can dispute his record.
Singh won 17 of his 29 tour titles after turning 40, tying the PGA Tour record set by Sam Snead. He won the PGA Championship at Sahalee in 1998 and at Whistling Straits in 2004, with a coveted Masters title in 2000. And there was no secret to success. Singh is legendary for spending hours upon hours on the practice range, leaving rows of 5-foot long trenches from digging the ball out of the dirt.
The one cloud over his credentials was an accusation that he doctored his scorecard in the '83 Indonesian, which led to Singh being expelled from the Asian Tour. But he never quit, laboring in Borneo and saving enough money to get to Europe, and eventually America.
"I owe everything to golf," Singh said.
Nelson's story is simply remarkable, and unlikely to ever be matched in an era when players are given top instruction at an early age. He was a baseball player who thought golf was a sissy sport when he was drafted for the Vietnam War at age 19. While in the Army, Nelson met a soldier who played golf in Florida, and he promised himself he would try it one day.
"I was sitting in a foxhole, looking out on a Vietnam night," Nelson recalled about the end of his tour. "What was I going to do when I got home? I thought, 'This is my opportunity. Maybe I'll start golf."'
He picked up the game at Pine Tree Country Club in Kennesaw, Ga., where Nelson was going to junior college. The pro gave him Ben Hogan's book, "Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf," and Nelson studied each step. Before long, he was an assistant pro who did well enough that members encouraged him to try the mini-tours.
"I was able to get as good as I did as quick as I did because I didn't have any other option," Nelson said. "Either I had to get better at the level I was, or I was gone."
Nelson finished his career with 10 victories, three of them majors.
Picard, elected through the veteran's category, was as accomplished as a teacher as he was a player. Born in 1906, he won 20 times between 1935 and 1939, including six times in 1939 when he led the PGA Tour money list. Picard won the 1938 Masters, the 1939 PGA Championship and played in two Ryder Cups.
He encouraged Snead to join the tour, and gave Hogan unconditional support at the start of his career. Picard later became a teacher, and his clients included Hall of Famer Beth Daniel, who presented him at the World Golf Village.
Smith and McCormack were selected through the Lifetime Achievement category.
Along with helping to found the LPGA Tour, Smith has conducted more than 4,000 clinics since 1949 involving more than 250,000 young golfers. She was recognized during the LPGA's 50th anniversary of one of its top 50 players and teachers.
McCormack qualified for the 1958 U.S. Open at Southern Hills, but he made his mark with a famous handshake deal with Palmer. That led to the creation of IMG, and it was McCormack who recognized golfers' earning potentials through endorsements and appearance fees.
"I've shaken hands with thousands, maybe millions of people around the world, from the common man to some very famous people," Palmer said. "But none meant as much as that one handshake with Mark. He was the right man at the right time in the world of sports management."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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