Nick Price hopes pro golfers resist temptation to 'destroy' PGA Tour

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By the time Nick Price got to the 17th green at Southern Hills Country Club in the 1994 PGA Championship, he had run out of opponents.

The South African had thrashed the field, leading by seven strokes as he put the finishing touches on his third major championship title. There was nobody else to beat, so some funny volunteers at the 17th green created their own foes.

“They had my name at the top of the leaderboard, and below it they had the names ‘Nicklaus,’ ‘Hogan’ and ‘Nelson,’” Price said. “I got a laugh out of that. I gave them a ‘thumbs-up.’ It’s the only time I got to enjoy winning a major.”

There was plenty to smile about. Price led from an opening 67 and his game was hotter than the Oklahoma late-summer weather.

He added rounds of 65, 70 and 67 to finish at 11-under 269, six shots ahead of Corey Pavin (Price bogeyed 18). The margin of victory was the largest in major championship golf between Jack Nicklaus’ seven-shot win at the 1980 PGA and Tiger Woods’ 12-shot win at the 1997 Masters.

It was Price’s second career PGA (he won at Bellerive in ’92) and his second consecutive major title – the first man to do that in 12 years since Tom Watson. It was his sixth win of the ’94 season to enable the 37-year-old Price to become No. 1 in the world rankings.

“I always wanted to be No. 1 in the world,” Price said. “It was a culmination of a lot of hard work. What I remember most about that PGA was how much control I had over the golf ball. I was swinging so well. I also had a really good strategy, but when you hit the ball well, strategy becomes easy. It was the peak of my career.”

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Price’s objective was simple: He knew he was the best player on the planet. So did everyone else. He was playing so well, all he had to do was not do anything silly.

He didn’t even mind bucking traditional thinking by switching to a new putter between his British Open victory at Turnberry and showing up at Southern Hills.

“A lot of guys were saying, ‘Uh, what are you doing? Why would you change putters while you’re winning?’ ” Price said. “I putted beautifully all week. I knew what I was doing.”

As a result, the rest of the field knew what they were doing: They were playing for second place.

“I won the B Flight,” said Pavin, who finished a distant second, a shot ahead of Phil Mickelson. “Nick made it impossible to have any hope out there. He played unbelievable golf.”

Price fit the script of a major champion at Southern Hills: Namely, they are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

The last five major champions at Southern Hills are Hall of Famers: Hubert Green (1977 U.S. Open), part time Palm Beach resident Raymond Floyd (1982 PGA), Price, Retief Goosen (2001 U.S. Open) and Jupiter Island’s Tiger Woods (2007 PGA).

It’s no coincidence Southern Hills has produced a who’s who of champions. The Perry Maxwell-designed layout built in 1936 is that good.

Nick Price
Nick Price

“It was a comprehensive test of golf,” Price said. “You have to drive the ball well, hit your irons well. You have to be conservative at times; you get on the wrong side of the green, you’re in trouble.

“Just look who won there. That speaks volumes to the golf course.”

Several months after the PGA win, Price and wife Sue paid $4 million to buy land in Jupiter Island and soon moved their family from Orlando to South Florida. A decade later, Price co-founded the McArthur Golf Club in Hobe Sound with former CBS Network executive Peter Lund.

Now 65, Price will watch plenty of this week’s PGA to see how much the course was changed when Gil Hanse renovated it three years ago. The Senior PGA was held there last year, with Alex Cejka a respectable winner (he won the PGA Tour Champions’ previous major last year).

The fact that defending champion Mickelson won’t be at Southern Hills this week is a reminder there may be huge changes coming in professional golf with rival tours LIV Golf Invitational Series and Premier Golf League trying to take away the game’s biggest stars.

Price believes the biggest names should stand by the tour that has made so many of them rich and famous.

“You can shoot holes in any organization,” Price said, “but there’s so much good the PGA Tour has done. The Tour has raised more than $2 billion for charities with a lot of that going into smaller communities.

“It’s taken the Tour more than 50 years to get to where it is now. There’s phenomenal money to play for as well as incredible retirement benefits. I just hope what’s going on doesn’t destroy that.”

Like Price destroyed the field at the 1994 PGA.

Chip shots: Michael Sweeney of Port St. Lucie advanced through a local U.S. Open qualifier last week at Wellington National by shooting 3-under 69 to earn co-medalist honors … Stuart’s Ken Duke and Gary Nicklaus are among the biggest names entered in Thursday’s U.S. Senior Open qualifier at the Bear’s Club. Duke is 23rd on this year’s PGA Tour Champions’ money list.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Nick Price hopes pro golfers resist temptation to 'destroy' PGA Tour