Larry Nelson's address in Marietta, Ga., is 421 Oakmont Circle.
"Yes, it's named after this golf course," said Nelson today after he had won the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club. "Maybe next week they'll change the number on my house."
Nelson wouldn't mind 280--his winning score.
The story of how Nelson came to be an Open champion is one of golf's stranger tales--largely because of another unusual address.
Born in Ft. Payne, Ga., Nelson grew up, from the age of 8 to 14, with the mailing address "Ackworth-and-or-Kennesaw, Ga."
"The nearest golf course was 30 miles away and (at that age) I couldn't drive," said Nelson, whose athletic loves were baseball and basketball.
Nelson dreamed about a pitching career in the majors. "I had a great knuckle ball and a sneaky fast ball," he said today, still proudly showing off the callus on his right index finger caused by many curve balls long ago.
Scouts deemed Nelson too small to be a pitcher, so he got a college baseball scholarship at Southern Tech. After a year, he quit school to work as an illustrator at the same Lockheed plant where his father worked. "I can draw anything I can see, and to perfect scale. But I can't draw people."
Drafted in '68, Nelson did a two-year hitch in the Army, making "buck sergeant" and serving three months in Vietnam, where "I walked through the rice paddies and the jungles . . . I was very fortunate over there . . . I came back."
An army buddy, Ken Hummel, kept talking about the glories of golf and Nelson, who had thought that "golf was for sissies" when he was in high school, took up the game when he returned.
Nelson was immediately torn between golf, which he loved immediately, and his plans to become a chemical engineer. "I was already enrolled at Georgia Tech and I had all the required math for the first two years out of the way," he said. "I couldn't do a calculus problem right now but I enjoyed them then. I loved science."
Though he'd never swung a club until he was 22, Nelson was so addicted to the game, and so good at it, that he turned pro in six months. "I want to try this and just see," Nelson told his wife of 16 years, Gayle.
Only four years after he first picked up a club, Nelson had his players card and by 1974, he was earning a living on tour. In 10 seasons, he's won six tournaments--two majors--and $1.1 million.
It's been Nelson's bad luck that, in a period when pro golf has had an identity crisis, Nelson has often been singled out as the most clonelike of all the PGA Tour's clean-cut, smooth-swinging, expressionless players. It was, of course, profoundly unfair to Nelson's golf accomplishments and his strong, simple character.
"I'm unassuming. I don't think it's necessary to be anything other than yourself. I don't require any attention," said Nelson, who would be glad to plead guilty to dullness if that meant he were deeply religious, devoted to his family and determined to succeed at his work.
Nelson is now a player director of the PGA Tour Tournament Policy Board--a thankless but important role. He often skips the British Open so he can stay home with his family and go fishing. Also typical of Nelson is that he has an apppointment for Tuesday morning in Memphis that is so important to him that he has told "Good Morning America" that he'll miss their nationwide show before he'll miss what he's doing in Memphis.
"I have to speak at a church," he said quietly. "No, I don't preach. It's just a talk."
Asked if he ever prayed on the golf course, perhaps a reference to his prayer of a birdie putt at the 16th hole today, Nelson showed his only trace of irritation of the day. He wanted it clear that he wasn't one of those shallow God's-on-my-team jock Christians.
"I don't pray for the ball to go in," he said. "The only thing I pray for is the inner peace to do my best."