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Price to be inducted into Golf Hall of Fame

The wait is over for Nick Price. He finally was recognized as one of golf's greatest players Tuesday when he was elected into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Price, a Jupiter Island resident who dominated golf in the mid-1990s while winning three major championships, was elected through the PGA Tour ballot after missing out the past three years.

He will be the 99th member of the Hall when he gets inducted in St. Augustine on Oct. 20.

"I was wondering if I was going to get in on the veteran's ballot," Price quipped Tuesday night from his hotel room in Charlotte, N.C., where PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem made the announcement at the Wachovia Championship.

"The last couple of years, everybody kept telling me it was my time, but it was perplexing that I wasn't getting in while contemporaries of mine who had won less majors were," Price said. "I was starting to get worried."

No worries now. Price, 46, received 76 percent of the vote on the PGA Tour ballot, easily getting the minimum 65 percent. Tom Kite received 59 percent, followed by Henry Picard (43 percent), Curtis Strange (38 percent) and Larry Nelson (37 percent).

Price has won 18 PGA Tour titles, including the 1992 and 1994 PGA Championships and the 1994 British Open and most recently last year at The Colonial. He was the sport's top performer in the mid-1990s, winning a combined 10 titles in 1993 and 1994 to earn the tour's Player of the Year each season.

He also was a two-time winner of the money title and the Vardon Trophy and won the prestigious Players Championship in 1993. His 16 tour wins in the 1990s were the most during the decade, one more than Tiger Woods. Because of his success and reputation as being one of the nicest guys in sports, many of his peers were incredulous that he already wasn't in the Hall of Fame.

"It's long overdue," said Jupiter's Olin Browne. "He was at the pinnacle of golf in the 1990s. He wasn't just a guy who played well. He was the guy to beat every week during that stretch. He's proud of the fact he's earned a place in the game."

Jupiter's Jesper Parnevik believes Price was a victim of his own recent success. Price is No. 12 in the latest world rankings, will defend his Colonial title in three weeks and almost won in Los Angeles three months ago.

"A lot of times, guys get inducted into the Hall of Fame when they're near the end of their careers," said Parnevik, who was second to Price at the '94 British Open. "It certainly wasn't a surprise to any of us out here he got elected. He's been a great player for a long time."

Price said he never thought about making the Hall of Fame when he first picked up a left-handed 5-iron and started playing at age 9 (his older brother, Tim, convinced him to switch and play right-handed). Growing up in Zimbabwe, Price was just trying to find a way to make a living.

Through hard work, he built one of the sweetest, most repetitive swings in the game, enabling him to remain a top player even as power players have come to dominate the Tour. He let some tournaments get away early in his career but won the 1983 World Series of Golf during his rookie season to earn a 10-year exemption.

"That really was a huge steppingstone for me," said Price, who also credited his wife, Sue, for her support.

In 1982, Price was in Pinehurst, N.C., to play in a tournament when he made a point to visit the old Golf Hall of Fame. But getting inducted wasn't something that dominated his thoughts until recently.

"We've never talked about the Hall of Fame," Jupiter Island neighbor Greg Norman, who got inducted two years ago, said Tuesday night. "We just wanted to be the best players we could be.

"I've always respected Nick because he did it the hard way, coming from Zimbabwe and all the things he had to deal with. Just like me, he had to leave home to be successful, and that's a lot harder for anyone to imagine. When you reach the top, it makes you feel all the better about what you've accomplished."

Price spent most of Tuesday accepting congratulations from his fellow players. He has long been one of the most popular and respected players on Tour. Just two weeks ago, Fred Couples credited Price with giving him a swing tip that helped him end a five-year winless drought with a victory in Houston.

Price relishes his good-guy image -- he won the Payne Stewart and Jim Murray awards last year for the way he handles himself -- but he knows it's not his personality that has him among the game's elite. It was his game.

"I guess what I'm most proud of is when I played well, I was very hard to beat," he said. "I could compete with anyone."

Price will be joined at the induction ceremony by two-time PGA champion Leo Diegel (veteran's category), former Japanese star Chako Higuchi (lifetime achievement category) and Annika Sorenstam, who qualifies as soon as she plays 15 events on the LPGA Tour this year.

 

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