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Comeback Kid

Once one of the nation’s top amateurs, Birk Nelson returns to the game

As seen in the February 2018 issue of Pacific Northwest Golfer Magazine

Birk’s parents Nels and Barbara, celebrate with Birk after he won the 1995 Pacific Coast Amateur, held that year at Canterwood Golf and Country Club in Gig Harbor, Wash. That was a good year for Nelson in which he also won the PNGA Men’s Amateur and finished runner-up at the Oregon Amateur.

In 1995, there was no better player in the Pacific Northwest than Birk Nelson.

The young man from Pendleton, Ore. starred on the Oregon State University men’s golf team as their No. 1 player, marched his way through the match-play bracket in winning the PNGA Men’s Amateur (a year after Tiger Woods had won the championship), and stared-down the best amateur players in the world in winning the Pacific Coast Amateur. He also finished runner-up that year in the Oregon Amateur.

After graduating from OSU, he turned pro and tried the mini-tours for a while before settling down as a PGA Professional at Diamond Woods Golf Course in Monroe, Ore., eventually becoming their head pro.

While performing his duties as a club pro, he continued to play in the region’s PGA Section majors. He married, and pretty soon a son came along.

“I loved the game, and I loved working at Diamond Woods,” he says now. “But being a club pro is an all-consuming job, and I was feeling a little bit burned out on playing for so many years without a break.”

And he wanted to spend more time with his young family, wanting the weekends free.

So after six years at Diamond Woods, and nothing but golf since he was a kid in Pendleton, he walked away from the game.

“I got into the IT business,” he says. “It was a good job, I enjoyed it okay, and it provided for my family.”

Nelson maintained his status as a PGA Professional, and played casually once in a while, but that was it. “I really was focused on my family,” he says. “I knew I wasn’t going to get those years back, so it was important to me.”

Meanwhile, Jim Hackenberg, an old teammate of Birk’s from his days on the OSU golf team and a fellow PGA Professional, had founded a training aid company called Orange Whip. The device (known for its OSU colors), became successful, eventually showing up in the bags of PGA TOUR players on driving ranges at tournament sites.

After seven years in the IT business, Nelson reconnected with Hackenberg. “I was ready,” Nelson says. “It was time to get back in the game, and Jim provided it.”

Nelson (holding check) won the 2017 Callaway Invitational, held at Arrowhead Golf Club in Molalla and conducted by the Oregon Chapter PGA. Proving he’s still a force in regional tournaments, he also finished tied for ninth at the 2017 Oregon Open Invitational.

Nelson became a local rep for Orange Whip in April 2017, and has been all-in with it, sponsoring local PGA Section events, and even playing again, winning the Callaway Invitational and finishing tied for ninth in the 2017 Oregon Open Invitational.

“It feels great,” he says, of being involved with the game again. “I feel like I’ve come full circle. After a brief detour, I’m coming at it with fresh eyes.”

But with the same great golf swing.

– Tom Cade, Editor