Larry Nelson, Hall of Fame Golfer

3-time major championship winner Larry Nelson plays on the PGA Tour in 1993.
J.D. Cuban/Getty Images

Larry Nelson got a late start on the PGA Tour, but he still managed to win three majors in the 1980s and earn a place in the Hall of Fame.

Fast Facts: Larry Nelson

  • Occupation: Professional golfer
  • Born: September 10, 1947 in Fort Payne, Alabama
  • Key Accomplishments: Winner of three major championships including the 1983 U.S. Open; winner of 10 PGA Tour tournaments overall and more than 20 other professional tournaments.
  • Quotable: "I play this game waiting for the two weeks a year when I can putt."

Number of Wins and Majors

Nelson won 10 times on the PGA Tour and added another four wins on the Japan Tour. After turning 50, he added 19 more titles playing the Champions Tour.

In the four major championships, Nelson earned three wins. His first win in a major was at the 1981 PGA Championship, and he won that major again in 1987. In-between, Nelson won the 1983 U.S. Open.

The list of tournaments won by Nelson appears below.

Awards and Honors

  • Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
  • Member, U.S. Ryder Cup team, 1979, 1981, 1987
  • Champions Tour money leader, 2000
  • Champions Tour Player of the Year, 2000

Larry Nelson Biography

He went to war, and when he came home, he found peace on the golf course. Well, actually, he found a great living — but that's the story of Larry Nelson's unusual path to golf.

Nelson was a baseball player as a youth. He didn't even pick up golf until he was 21, after returning home from service in the Vietnam War. He started working at Pine Tree Country Club in Kennesaw, Ga., and teaching himself golf by reading Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.

Nelson broke 100 the very first time he played a round of golf, and within nine months he broke 70. The Pine Tree CC members began encouraging him to try one of golf's mini-tours.

Just a couple years later, in 1973, Nelson made it through Q-School on his first attempt and was on the PGA Tour at age 27.

"I fell in love with (golf) and got better every day," Nelson once explained about the development of his game. "I was always put in a situation where everyone was better than I was. My motivation was getting better and feeding my family."

His first two victories came in 1979 and he finished second on the money list that year. He also made the first of three Ryder Cup appearances for the U.S., going 5-0. Nelson played twice more in the Ryder Cup with a career record of 9-3-1. Tom Watson once said that if he had to choose one American golfer to play one must-win Ryder Cup match, his choice would be Nelson.

Nelson won the 1981 PGA Championship, then got his second major at the 1983 U.S. Open by shooting 132 over the final two rounds. In 1987, he again won the PGA Championship, defeating Lanny Wadkins in a playoff.

Nelson's last win on the PGA Tour was in 1988. He debuted on the Champions Tour in 2000 and led that tour in victories that year, as well as in 2001.

Nelson was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006.

Larry Nelson Trivia

  • Larry Nelson is the only golfer to post a 5-0 record in a single Ryder Cup where five matches is the maximum, doing so in 1979. He paired with Lanny Wadkins to win four team matches, then defeated Seve Ballesteros in singles.
  • Nelson was one of four golfers to win at least three majors during the 1980s (the others were Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Ballesteros).

List of Nelson's Tour Wins

Here is the list of Larry Nelson's tour victories, by tour:

PGA Tour (10)

  • 1979 Jackie Gleason-Inverrary Classic
  • 1979 Western Open
  • 1980 Atlanta Classic
  • 1981 Greater Greensboro Open
  • 1981 PGA Championship
  • 1983 U.S. Open
  • 1984 Walt Disney
  • 1987 PGA Championship
  • 1987 Walt Disney World/Oldsmobile Classic
  • 1988 Georgia-Pacific Atlanta Golf Classic

Japan Tour (4)

  • 1980 Tokai Classic
  • 1983 Dunlop International Open
  • 1989 Suntory Open
  • 1991 Dunlop Phoenix Tournament

Champions Tour (19)

  • 1998 American Express Invitational
  • 1998 Pittsburgh Senior Classic
  • 1998 Boone Valley Classic
  • 1999 GTE Classic
  • 1999 Bruno's Memorial Classic
  • 2000 Las Vegas Senior Classic
  • 2000 Boone Valley Classic
  • 2000 FleetBoston Classic
  • 2000 Foremost Insurance Championship
  • 2000 Bank One Senior Championship
  • 2000 Vantage Championship
  • 2001 MasterCard Championship
  • 2001 Royal Caribbean Classic
  • 2001 FleetBoston Classic
  • 2001 Farmers Charity Classic
  • 2001 SBC Championship
  • 2003 Constellation Energy Classic
  • 2004 FedEx Kinko's Classic
  • 2004 Administaff Small Business Classic