Sports

Golfer Lonnie Nielsen dies at 67

Belle Plaine native went on to PGA, Champions Tour wins

Lonnie Nielsen watches his shot form the second tee Friday, June 22, 2007, during the first round of the Champions Tour'
Lonnie Nielsen watches his shot form the second tee Friday, June 22, 2007, during the first round of the Champions Tour’s Bank of America Championship golf tournament at Nashawtuc Country Club in Concord, Mass. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole)
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Lonnie Nielsen, who went from Belle Plaine to the University of Iowa to the PGA, died Wednesday in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Nielsen was 67 and, according to his obituary, had battled dementia.

Nielsen grew up in Belle Plaine, learning to play golf on the “sand green courses” around his hometown. at the urging of his father.

He was an All-American and two-time all-Big Ten golfer at Iowa before joining the PGA Tour. He played from 1978 through 1993, tying for 11th at the 1986 PGA Championship.

“The Iowa Golf program mourns the passing of Lonnie Nielsen,” Iowa head coach Tyler Stith said in a news release. “Lonnie was one of the all-time greats in our program and the state of Iowa, and was an even better person. Our deepest sympathies go out to the entire Nielsen family.”

He later became the head golf professional at Crag Burn Golf Club in East Aurora, N.Y., a position he held for 20 years. He joined the PGA Champions Tour in 2004, winning the Commerce Bank Championship in 2007 and the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in 2009.

He was inducted into the Western New York PGA Hall of Fame in 2004, the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.

“Golf was his great passion in life ...,” his obit read.

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He won several amateur events in Iowa, including the 1975 Iowa Amateur, and was named Iowa Player of the Year that year. Nielsen’s first professional win was the Waterloo Open in 1979. He also won more than 100 Western New York Section PGA titles, prompting the WNYPGA to name its Player of the Year Award in his honor.

“Besides golf, Lonnie also enjoyed music, playing cards, telling jokes and eating ice cream,” according to his obit. “To know him was to love him. He was known for his infectious smile, quick wit and sense of humor.”

Nielsen is survived by his wife, his high school sweetheart, of 43 years, Mary Jo, as well as three children, four grandchildren and three sisters.

A mass will be held Monday in Lake View, N.Y., and a “Celebration of Lonnie’s life will take place at a later date when the current health conditions improve.”

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