Captain Nelson in '97
With the Ryder Cup going to Valderrama, Spain, in 1997, Seve Ballesteros is sure to be the European captain. Who will lead the U.S. team? Larry Nelson is the leader in the clubhouse.
He may not be as dynamic as Lanny Wadkins or have the presence of Tom Watson, but what the low-key Nelson does have is the personality to offset the domineering and combative Ballesteros. "Seve's going to be confrontational; Larry's not," says Wadkins. "Plus, every time Seve looks across from him, he's going to see a guy who beat him every time he played him."
Wadkins was alluding to 1979, when Ballesteros was 22 and playing in his first Ryder Cup. Nelson faced Seve in four matches and won them all.
Nelson is campaigning for the job.
"To me it would be a good challenge, because Seve has meant to European golf what [Jack] Nicklaus and [Arnold] Palmer have meant to American golf," Nelson says. "I also figure that going to Spain in 1997, there will be a lot of animosity against the U.S. players. I've always been a quiet person on the outside, but I'm a competitive person on the inside."
Nelson, who has won a pair of PGA Championships to to with one U.S. Open, also has a solid Ryder Cup record of 9-3-1, all of which makes him an attractive candidate to the PGA of America.
"The PGA of America has the good ol' boy attitude big-time," says Johnny Miller, who along with Hale Irwin is also said to be under consideration for the job. "If you win their championship, you're going to be the captain."
The timing also seems right for a Nelson captaincy. Because many players are opting to play the Senior tour, the PGA normally picks captains before they turn 50. Nelson's 50th birthday is two weeks before the 1997 Ryder Cup. He would have two years to dedicate to the job, which would leave 1999 open for Tom Kite, Curtis Strange or possibly Hubert Green.
Another plus is that Nelson, like Wadkins and Watson before him, is young enough to have competed against everybody who will be on his team.