For Larry Nelson, a long wait to get into the World Golf Hall of Fame didn't diminish the joy once it finally happened.
"When I got the call, I got very emotional all of a sudden," Nelson told Golf World. "I'd geared myself for it not happening again. I didn't realize how important it was to me until I got the news."
The three-time major champion and Ryder Cup stalwart was the only player elected off the PGA Tour ballot into the Hall's Class of 2006. In his 11th appearance on the ballot and a year after finishing second by one percentage point to Vijay Singh, Nelson received 65 percent of the votes to earn entry.
The late Henry Picard, whose 26 tour victories included the 1938 Masters and 1939 PGA Championship, was second with 53 percent, followed by Curtis Strange (50 percent), Craig Wood (37), Hubert Green (36) and Lanny Wadkins (34). (Election on the PGA Tour ballot required players receive 65 percent of the vote.) Picard, a renowned teacher after his playing career who counted Hall of Famer Beth Daniel among his pupils before his death in 1997, was then selected through the veteran's category by the World Golf Foundation selection committee.
Nelson's honor caps one of golf's most inspiring careers. A Vietnam combat veteran, he didn't take up the game until he was 21 after an injured arm cut short his baseball dreams. Using Ben Hogan's book, "Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals Of Golf," as his guide and mini-tours as his laboratory, Nelson developed into one of his generation's toughest competitors.
"My father told me I was good enough to do anything I wanted to do if I worked at it hard enough," said Nelson, 58. "The ability to keep fighting until it's over is something that can be taught, but being able to do it at the right time is a gift."
His tenacity was a key to Nelson's 1981 and 1987 PGA Championships and 1983 U.S. Open victories and his 9-3-1 record in three Ryder Cup appearances. Despite his stellar credentials, Nelson was never offered the U.S. captaincy.
"That didn't happen the way it was supposed to," he admitted, "but this is incomparable. I'm still amazed I was voted in."
No players, meanwhile, were elected off the international ballot, with Japan's Jumbo Ozaki getting the largest number of votes (46 percent) followed by José Maria Olazábal (32).
Nelson and Picard, along with Singh, who deferred his honor until this year, will be enshrined in ceremonies Oct. 30 in St. Augustine, Fla.
Bill Fields is a senior editor for Golf World magazine.