It’s hard not to like Nick Price. Honest and forthright – he is a breathe of fresh air in professional sport. If you have met him just once or witnessed him in action, either on the golf course or interacting with spectators, you become a fan.
I had always believed that. And I always will. Even in the middle of a tournament I have observed as he took time to converse with a spectator who happened to be wearing the replica Zimbabwe cricket jersey of Price’s nephew, Raymond. How many pro athletes would you see cross the full breadth of a fairway to seek out a fan? Never mind the fact he was paying enough attention to the fans to spot it!
And now, to the delight of Champions’ Tour fans, the 18-time PGA Tour champion and 24-time International winner will be taking his show to their theatre.
Sadly, for those who pay far more attention to the PGA Tour – it means even less of the man who dominated that tour for an extended period in the early 1990’s, posting 15 wins in that decade alone. How could you not cheer for him at Turnberry in 1994 as he raised the Claret Jug and spoke so eloquently about his previous Open Championship heartbreaks?
Truthfully, Price has been pretty much been in the background on the PGA Tour over the last few years, playing a schedule near the minimum number of starts each season. But the milestone of him even being eligible for the Champions Tour seems to create a finite barrier and realization that his regular tour days are fading.
Of course he still has game, posting a top ten as recent as the 2005 United States Open. But after a hard working career where he has piled up trophies and cash, you can empathize with a move to play in the less harried environment of the older set.
When it comes down to it, I am just a fan who is being selfish about Nick Price and his Champions Tour eligibility. You see, for those of among ink stained wretches; Price was always a willing figure you could talk to by default. He would never hesitate to answer a question thoughtfully, giving you all the time you needed. Just as he would do for any fan he encountered.
His forthright nature continued today as he prepares to play in the Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, Florida. He addressed a group of press members by teleconference. During the half hour media gauntlet, he mentioned not only his true desire to play on the Champions Tour but also spoke candidly about the state of his game and all sorts of subjects ranging from the scourge of slow play, to the need for players to rival Tiger, and the “ruining” of Augusta National.
And, in typical Nick Price fashion, he made his points with clarity, with his experience as the weighted evidence to back him.
The last two years have been tough for Nick Price, an ardent competitor. He has struggled with his game in a failed attempt to find the extra yards he felt he needed to still compete at the PGA Tour level. All this before realizing, “at 47 or 48 I just wasn’t going to get any longer.”
The result was a profound lull for his attitude, and his game. Asked about a low point in the last couple years he simply said, “pick a month except for July and August when I am with my kids for summer vacation. Too many short weeks.”
Missing cuts hurts even for a player already in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
He describes his recent times on the PGA Tour as “purgatory”, specifically mentioning the length issue. “The game passed me by a bit. At least out here you don’t have to hit the ball 320 yards.” As a result, Price says his PGA Tour appearances will be limited to places like Colonial where he believes he still has a chance to compete. “The majority of my golf will be played out here,” he said mentioning a proposed Champions Tour schedule of 15 or 16 events with more to be added depending on his play.
Another fact in that equation is his family. He and wife Sue have three young kids at home and he says being a father is a greater priority over being a golfer. He wants to make sure that Greg, Robyn, and Kimberley, now 15, 13 and 10, get a proper summer break. “Staying in a hotel for a week at the British Open is not a summer vacation,” he reiterates.
The Allianz Championship is a no-brainer as a Champions Tour debut for Price as he lives just around the corner in Hobe Sound, but you can still expect some fireworks from him this weekend; he is far from being a ceremonial golfer.
He has been working of late with David Leadbetter and rates his current game as a 6 out of 10, saying he is pleased to at least be at a number on the right side of the scale, but hoping to get sharper in coming weeks. “Who knows, at times gone by I have won with a game at a 6 but I need to get my game up to a 7 or an 8 before I feel competitive out here.”
You can bet Price will probably get to a 7 or 8 fairly fast. It is hard not to imagine him raising at least one trophy on the Champions Tour in 2007.
Whatever happens, I implore all Champions Tour fans, please take care of Nick. Give him the respect he deserves and don’t be afraid to send him back out to play on the PGA Tour whenever he wants.
The Champions Tour has put a lot of ceremony into welcoming Nick Price but there is some redundancy in that.
Really, where wouldn’t he be welcome?