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Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame: Love of the game fueled Lonnie Nielsen's golf success

This is part of a series highlighting this year’s class of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. The 15-member class will be inducted Oct. 9. Tickets are available at GBSHOF.com

Lonnie Nielsen's love of golf started before he can remember.

As a young boy in Iowa, he began when his father let him play on the sand courses in his hometown. The experience began his love for the game and created lifelong memories.

His passion for the game eventually took him all the way to the PGA and Champions Tour.

"My dad let me tag along with him, he was obviously a very patient man," Nielson, now 65, said. "He started me with metal wood and that was all I had."

He'll be inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame  on Oct. 9, recognition for his 39 career victories as a touring pro and 20 years as the club professional at Crag Burn Country Club, where he tutored and taught the game to many golfers.

"It’s really quite an honor," Nielsen said. "I can’t believe it, I got inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. ... You look at all the guys that have been inducted and that’s quite a mouthful."

Nielson went to the University of Iowa and turned pro in 1976.  He was on tour from 1976 through 1983 and played in the U.S. Open in 1977 and 1983. He then became the club professional at Crag Burn.

Nielsen said the highlight of his career came in 1986, when he finished tied for 11th at the PGA Championship as a club professional. That was the same championship in which Bob Tway hit the famous bunker shot to upset Greg Norman.

Nielsen joined the Champions Tour in 2003 when he turned 50. He went on to win the Commerce Bank Championship in 2007 by two strokes over Loren Roberts and the Dick's Sporting Goods Open in 2009 rallying from three strokes behind Fred Funk for the victory.

"I thought I would never win once, let alone twice," he said. "They beat the crap out of me the first time around."

Many of Nielsen's tournament wins came in New York state. He won the New York State Open in 1985 and 1989, was a 13-time winner of the Western New York PGA Match Play, an eight-time winner of the Western New York Open and a nine-time winner of the Western New York sectional tournament.

Nielsen adds the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame recognition to his induction into the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame in 2010. He won the Iowa state amateur championship in 1975 and was named Iowa player of the year. He was a University of Iowa student at the time.

He now lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., with his wife. Nielsen also has three children.

Even in retirement, he said his love for the game is just as big, if not bigger than when he started out as a young boy. He still manages to get out on the course almost every day and plans to continue playing the game for as long as he can.

"It’s quite a challenge," he said. "I just love the challenge of it."

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