Last month Tom Kite was named captain of the U.S. team for the
1997 Ryder Cup, a choice that surprised the many who were
expecting that honor to go to Larry Nelson. Nelson, 48, is a
two-time winner of the PGA and a veteran of three Cups who will
be moving on to the Senior tour late in 1997, so timing and
credentials had made him the front-runner for the job. Now his
goal is to make the team as a player. SI caught up with Nelson
at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
SI: How did you learn about Tom Kite's selection as Ryder Cup
LN: It was interesting. A week before the announcement someone
from CNN called and asked if I was going to West Palm Beach
because they had heard the captain was going to be there for a
press conference. I didn't know it was Kite, but since I hadn't
heard from the PGA, I figured that someone else had been selected.
SI: How did you feel?
LN: I was disappointed. I don't want to say that it was a done
deal, but ever since Lanny Wadkins's selection in 1993, the
people that I talked to at the PGA had indicated that in 1997 I
would be captain. Lanny and I talked about it quite a bit. I had
conversations with the people who made the selection in 1993,
and that was just the way it was--between Lanny and me for 1995,
and whoever didn't get it would go on in 1997.
SI: Kite may have gotten more attention for winning his one
major than you did for winning three. Do you think your low
profile and low-key personality made it easier for the PGA not
to choose you?
LN: I don't think that should have had any bearing on how the
decision was made. If you compare Tom's personality with mine,
there's not a whole lot of difference. As far as the one major
versus three, he's one of the leading money winners of all time
and has been a great player for a long time. I heard that one
reason they picked Tom is because I'm not in touch with the
players. It doesn't make a lot of sense. I played 21 tournaments
last year, and I'll play 22 this year. I don't know how you're
supposed to be any more in touch than to play 21 tournaments. If
that was the sole reason, then they made their decision for the
SI: Did you ever lobby for the job?
LN: No, I never talked to anyone. I don't even know who was on
the selection committee. I honestly didn't think it was the kind
of honor that you had to lobby for. To me it's not a political
decision, so if it required me schmoozing up to the right
guys, then I didn't want it. I don't know whether Tom lobbied.
Maybe he did, maybe he didn't, but apparently they knew more
about him than they did about me.
SI: How soon after learning that you would not be captain did
you set the goal of making the team?
LN: It's been in the back of my mind since 1987, the last time I
played on the team. I've always wanted to get back. But yes,
since I was not selected captain, I would like to go there as a
player. There's no bitterness. There's no "I'll show them" type
of thing. It's just proving that if you can't be captain, then
the next best thing is to be a player.
SI: What have you done to get your game in shape?
LN: Last year was probably one of my worst since I came on Tour
in 1974. I only made four cuts. I started working out really
hard, building up muscles that had kind of wasted away. I never
had too much trouble with nerves, so I felt that if I could get
back the physical part of my body, the nerves would take care of
themselves. Physically, I feel as good as I did when I was 30.
SI: Was the primary motivation to have a strong finish to your
Tour career and make a run for the Cup, or to prepare for the
LN: The primary thing was to finish my career on the regular
Tour. I really feel that I can win out here again, and I have
two more years to give it my best shot.
SI: If you don't make the '97 team, is it going to be a little
tougher to watch the Ryder Cup on TV?
LN: No. I've enjoyed watching the last two or three. It won't
diminish my support of the team and Tom. The only thing I regret
is that after all the conversations I've had with the PGA of
America over the last four years, I was never contacted and told
that Tom had been selected. I think I deserved that much.
SI: Did you ever consider calling them?
LN: No, and I'm not waiting for one of them to call me now. I
have not talked to Tom. I wouldn't talk to Tom about him being
selected and me not being selected. I'd just tell Tom that I'm
happy for him and offer to help in any way that I can. It'll be
tough over there [Valderamma, Spain]. They'll need all the
support they can get.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [Larry Nelson]