If there was ever a golfer who took the road less traveled, it is Nick Price. His was an intricate puzzle, but when all the pieces were finally in place, Price at his peak played at a level rarely reached in the history of the game.
Between 1992 and 1994, Price won 16 of the 54 tournaments he played in worldwide, the victories including three major championships and the 1993 PLAYERS Championship. During that zenith, Price won both the PGA TOUR and PGA of America Player of the Year Awards twice each, and was the PGA TOUR’s leading money winner two times. To date, at age 48, he has won 18 times on the PGA TOUR to go with 24 International victories.
"I'd always dreamed of playing that way, and I finally did it at Southern Hills, it was what my journey was all about."
Price came to the game from one of its most fertile fringes. Born in South Africa on Jan. 28, 1957, Price was the youngest of three brothers by seven years. The family soon moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where at age eight, Price began banging plastic balls toward a series of tomato cans that were buried in neighborhood lawns. Price remembers playing as many as 144 holes a day in mock tournaments with his friends for a garden variety version of The Open Championship.
In such an environment, the athletic Price progressed dramatically. In 1974, at age 17, he won the Optimist Junior World at Torrey Pines in San Diego. “I had no idea what I’d done,” he says, “but I knew right then I wanted to make golf my life.”
In 1978, Price joined the European Tour. Although he would win the 1980 Swiss Open, his largely self-taught swing was not suited to the rigors of professional golf. Desperate, Price in 1982 began working with childhood friend David Leadbetter, who had become a teaching professional in America, and made dramatic improvement. Six months later, Price stood on the 13th tee at Troon leading the final round of the British Open by three strokes. Although he lost to Tom Watson by one, Price remembers being disappointed but not discouraged. “I knew I was getting better.”
Sure enough, the next year he won the World Series of Golf in Akron. The resulting 10-year exemption gave Price the time to indulge his passion, perfecting the golf swing. But Price’s learning curve did not continue its dramatic rise. Although he nearly won The Open Championship again in 1988, losing by a stroke to Seve Ballesteros, Price was gaining a reputation as an underachiever in golf. Eight years passed until he recorded his second PGA TOUR win in 1991.
Nick Price won the Bob Jones Award in 2005.
During that time Price crafted one of the most fundamentally sound golf swings in the game – a stacatto-like, yet classic, movement – and he eventually was rewarded for his hard work. In 1992, he won his first major title, the PGA Championship. THE PLAYERS Championship and three other titles followed in 1993, setting the stage for his greatest year, 1994.
At The Open Championship at Turnberry in Scotland, Price won in a manner that would have seemed farfetched even if he had been play-acting in his childhood garden. Three strokes down to Jesper Parnevik, Price birdied the 16th and eagled the 17th with a downhill 50-foot putt. When Parnevik bogeyed the 72nd hole, Price’s closing par gave him the claret jug.
It was Price’s most emotional triumph, but the victory he captured three weeks later at the PGA Championship is his proudest. Masterfully negotiating the tight doglegs and confounding targets at Southern Hills, Price achieved a shot-making virtuosity that ranked with the best of his golf idol, Ben Hogan. He opened with a 67 and was never challenged, eventually winning by six.
“I’d always dreamed of playing that way, and I finally did it at Southern Hills,” says Price. “It was what my journey was all about.”