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Nelson Knows the Emotions of Being a Father

Larry Nelson is not a moron. He remembers all too well those days in the Vietnam jungles when survival to the next day became a question mark, not `How does it feel to be a father.'
Nelson, of course, did survive, and he did become a father. That fact certainly is not lost on him as he plays the Office Depot Father/Son Challenge. He raised two of them, Drew, 24, and Josh, 22. He plays this weekend with Drew, and you can tell from his voice that this weekend is special.
'For most of us, we have had our sons travel with us for 35 to 40 years and they have been involved in our games - but not the competitive game,' he said. 'To be able to actually compete with your son in a tournament for a prize is just a dream come true.'
Golfers, I believe, want their sons to follow them in their careers. Overwhelmingly, sons try but don't measure up, and mostly because golf is such a demanding sport that that special talent is given to only very few. Fortune just doesn't smile on the same family that often. Jack Nicklaus has seen his sons struggle with the game. Gary has been on the PGA Tour the past year, and so in the past has Wayne Player, Dave Stockton, Jr., Guy Boros, Brent Geiberger and others. All had varying degrees of aptitude, but none was so blessed as their dads once were.
All, though, could definitely play. The Father-Son is a chance to play as a team, try to be competitive, but mostly to have fun in a place as beautiful as the Bahamas.
'There are so few people who reach the level that these fathers have,' said Nelson. 'I told my sons, both of them, that you are trying to go into one of the hardest professions that there is. There are so few people that reach that level and so many people trying.
'So, I am very honest with them. You may be really good, but you may never be good enough.'
It is such a cold slap when youngsters realize that for the first time. All their lives have been spent around professional athletes. As a child, they probably decided, yeah, this is what they want to do.
But it's not the same as someone whose dad sells insurance or paints cars. The number
who make it to the top is so miniscule. There might 100 in one town who sell insurance, but hardly 100 in the world who can make their mark in golf. A fellow might be very good, even the best in his city or state, but he still isn't assured of making it the way his dad made it.
'When he steps onto the golf course, he is just another person. He is not a professional golfer's son. He is just another person who has worked hard and tried to get his game to a certain level,' said Nelson.
'People say, `He's around golf all the time, he ought to be a really good player.' That puts a lot of pressure on the son because that is not the way it is.'
Drew has one advantage over father Larry. Larry was grown up, a Vietnam veteran, before he ever played. Drew had the advantage of starting as a boy.
'I told Drew that I did not start playing until 21 and I did not get on Tour until I was almost 26. So I tell him not to give up, because he is so far ahead of where I was.'
Larry has seen his son's emotions progress, his competitive spirit play a larger and larger role in his personality. Maybe he has seen more than most parents, he believes.
'To go through the same emotions if he blows it in the water or he hits it in a bunker, to know what the feeling is . we, as professional golfers, when we look at our children playing, we can empathize with them like no other person can. And once they get in a competitive place, they can empathize with us in knowing what we've gone through for all these years.'
Meanwhile, Larry has just about finished the role of playing father, teaching Drew and Josh what they need to know to become adults.
'It is really difficult,' Larry says. 'It was hard teaching my sons to drive. Parents have a hard time teaching their children. I think children learn from their parents by seeing, not by the parents telling them.
'I have tried, and they do listen to me. I think they respect me enough to know that I know what I am talking about, but sometimes it's easier for them to listen to someone else.'
Larry Nelson is a father whom any son would be proud to call 'dad.' Regardless if you are a golfer or just wish you were one, every son should be so fortunate.