Byron Nelson

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Byron Nelson
Personal Information
Birth February 4, 1912
Waxahachie, Texas
Death September 26, 2006
Roanoke, Texas
Height 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Nationality Flag of United States United States
Career
Turned Pro 1932
Retired 1946
Professional wins 63 (PGA Tour: 52, Other: 11)
Best Results in Major Championships
Wins: 5
Masters Won (2) 1937, 1942
U.S. Open Won (1) 1939
British Open 5th: 1937
PGA Championship Won (2) 1940, 1945
Awards
PGA Tour
Money Winner
1944, 1945
Vardon Trophy 1939

John Byron Nelson, Jr. (February 4, 1912 – September 26, 2006) was an American PGA Tour golfer between 1935 and 1946.

A Texas native, Nelson and two other well-known golfers of the time, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, were born within six months of each other in 1912. From a young age, Nelson showed a gift for the game.

In 1932, Nelson began a professional career during which he won many tournaments, including 52 PGA Tour wins. Today, he is especially remembered for having won a record-number 11 consecutive tournaments and 18 total tournaments in 1945. He retired officially at the age of 34 to be a rancher, later becoming a commentator and lending his name to the EDS Byron Nelson Championship, the first PGA Tour event to be named for a professional golfer. Nelson died in 2006, at his Texas home at the age of 94.

In 1974, Nelson received the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. He became the second recipient of the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997, and has been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Nelson received the Congressional Gold Medal shortly after his death in 2006.

Contents

Early life and career

Born on February 4, 1912, near Waxahachie, Texas, Byron Nelson was the son of Madge Allen Nelson and John Byron Nelson, Sr. His parents set a precedent for him not only in their long lives—Madge Nelson lived to age 98, and her husband to age 77—but also in their religious commitment. Madge, who had grown up Baptist, was baptized in a Church of Christ at age 18, and John Byron Sr., raised Presbyterian, was baptized into the same faith soon after meeting Madge. The senior Byron Nelson went on to serve as an elder in the Roanoke Church of Christ, and the younger Byron Nelson was a committed member of that congregation, performing janitorial services there from time to time long after he became famous.

When Nelson was 11 years old, the family moved to Fort Worth, where he barely survived typhoid fever after losing nearly half his body weight to the disease, which also left him unable to father children. Soon after his baptism at age 12, he started caddying at Glen Garden Country Club. An article on Nelson in Sports Illustrated noted that initially caddies were not permitted to play at the club: "[H]e would often practice in the dark, putting his white handkerchief over the hole so he could find it in the darkness."[1] The club later changed its policy and sponsored the Glen Garden Caddie Tournament, where a 14-year-old Nelson beat fellow caddy and future golf great Ben Hogan by a single stroke after a nine-hole playoff.

In 1934, Nelson was working as a golf pro in Texarkana, Texas, when he met future wife Louise Shofner, to whom he was married for 50 years until she died in 1985, after two severe strokes.

Championship heyday

After turning professional in 1932, Nelson posted his first tournament victory at the New Jersey State Open. He followed this up with a win at the Metropolitan Open the following year. He reportedly won this tournament with "$5 in my pocket."[2] Nelson won his first major event at The Masters in 1937, winning by two shots over Ralph Guldahl. During this tournament, he shot a first-round 66, which stood as a record as the lowest round in the Masters history until Raymond Floyd had 65 in the 1976 event.

Nelson would subsequently win four more major tournaments, the U.S. Open in 1939, the PGA Championship in 1940 and 1945, and a second Masters in 1942. Nelson had a blood disorder that caused his blood to clot four times slower than normal, which kept him out of military service during World War II. It has sometimes mistakenly been reported that he had hemophilia.

In his career, Nelson won 52 professional events. He also won the Vardon Trophy in 1939. In 1937 and 1947, Nelson played on the U.S. Ryder Cup teams. He was non-playing captain of the team in 1965. After 1946, Nelson curtailed his schedule, although he continued to make regular appearances at The Masters as a ceremonial starter for many years.

Record-breaking year

In 1945, Nelson enjoyed a record-breaking year, winning 18 tournaments, including 11 in a row. Both records are yet to be beaten. He also won the 1945 PGA Championship. There has been debate to how impressive these results are, as the profession golfing tour may have been somewhat weakened due to the war. However, many of the leading golfers of that time, including Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, still played either all of part of the schedule that year winning several tournaments themselves.

During 1945, Nelson finished second another seven times, set a record for the scoring average that was only recently broken (68.33, broken by Tiger Woods in 2000), a record 18-hole score (62), and a record 72-hole score (259). Nelson's year is considered to be the greatest single year by a player on the PGA Tour.

Nelson's record of making 113 consecutive "cuts" is second only to Tiger Woods' 142. It should be noted, however, that the PGA Tour defines a "cut" as receiving a paycheck. In Nelson's era, only the top 20 in a tournament received a check. Thus, Nelson's "113 consecutive cuts made" are representative of his unequaled 113 consecutive top-20 tournament finishes.

Death and legacy

Nelson died on September 26, 2006, at the age of 94, at his Roanoke, Texas home. He was survived by Peggy, his wife of nearly 20 years, sister Margaret Ellen Sherman, and brother Charles, a professor emeritus at Abilene Christian University, where Nelson had been a trustee and benefactor.

Several of the obituary columns mentioned Nelson's Christian beliefs, and one widely quoted column by PGA.com's Grant Boone drew a direct connection between these beliefs and Nelson's positive reputation: "Byron Nelson wasn't randomly respectable, not generically good. He was a follower of Christ, and his discipleship dictated his decency, demeanor, decision-making, and the way he dealt with people. … But Nelson never brandished his faith as a weapon, choosing instead to extend an empty and open hand in friendship to all comers. And did they ever come. Wherever the debate over which golfer is the best of all time ends, Byron Nelson was the game's finest man, hands down."[3]

Legacy

Byron Nelson is remembered today for having won 11 consecutive tournaments out of a total of 18 in 1945, both totals representing PGA records. He also holds the PGA record for most consecutive rounds in the 60s: 19 in 1945. Yet beyond his golfing prowess, Nelson was known by his fellow golfers and those in his community as a perfect gentleman. For this, he received the nickname, "Lord Byron," setting the model for sportsman-like conduct for generations of golfers to follow.

  • On October 16, 2006, President George W. Bush approved H.R. 4902 awarding Byron Nelson the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award that can be bestowed by the Legislative Branch of the United States government. The resolution cites Mr. Nelson's "significant contributions to the game of golf as a player, a teacher, and a commentator." Senate Resolution 602 memorialized Nelson on September 29, 2006.
  • State Highway 114 Business through Roanoke is named Byron Nelson Boulevard, in honor of Nelson's residence; the street he lived on was recently changed to Eleven Straight Lane in honor of his 1945 record. In Irving, Texas a street immediately adjacent to the Four Seasons Resort and Club, where the EDS Byron Nelson Championship is played each year, is named Byron Nelson Lane. A street in Southlake, Texas, Byron Nelson Parkway was named in his honor, as was a street in a residential neighborhood in McAllen, Texas.
  • On April 23, 2007, the Northwest Independent School District named a high school Byron Nelson High School, expected to open in 2009. The school will be located in Trophy Club, Texas, near Nelson's hometown of Roanoke.
  • Byron Nelson was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.

PGA Tour wins (52)

  • 1935 (1) New Jersey State Open
  • 1936 (1) Metropolitan Open
  • 1937 (2) The Masters, Belmont Country Club Match Play
  • 1938 (2) Thomasville Open, Hollywood Open
  • 1939 (4) Phoenix Open, North and South Open, U.S. Open, Western Open
  • 1940 (3) Texas Open, Miami Open, PGA Championship
  • 1941 (3) Greater Greensboro Open, Tam O'Shanter Open, Miami Open
  • 1942 (3) Oakland Open, The Masters, Tam O'Shanter Open
  • 1944 (8) San Francisco Victory Open, Knoxville War Bond Tournament, New York Red Cross Tourney, Minneapolis Four-Ball (with Harold "Jug" McSpaden), Tam O'Shanter Open, Nashville Open, Texas Victory Open, San Francisco Open
  • 1945 (18) Phoenix Open, Corpus Christi Open, New Orleans Open, Miami Four-Ball (with Harold "Jug" McSpaden), Charlotte Open, Greater Greensboro Open, Durham Open, Atlanta Open, Montreal Open, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Victory National Open, PGA Championship, Tam O'Shanter Open, Canadian Open, Knoxville Invitational, Esmeralda Open, Seattle Open, Glen Garden Open
  • 1946 (6) Los Angeles Open, San Francisco Open, New Orleans Open, Houston Open, Columbus Invitational, Chicago Victory National Open
  • 1951 (1) Bing Crosby Pro-Am

Major championships are shown in bold.

Major championships

Wins (5)

Year Championship 54 Holes Winning Score Margin Runners Up
1937 The Masters 4 shot deficit -5 (66-72-75-70=283) 2 strokes Flag of United States Ralph Guldahl
1939 U.S. Open 5 shot deficit +8 (72-73-71-68=284) Playoff 1 Flag of United States Craig Wood, Flag of United States Denny Shute
1940 PGA Championship N/A 1 up 1 stroke Flag of United States Sam Snead
1942 The Masters (2) 2 shot lead -6 (68-67-72-73=280) Playoff 2 Flag of United States Ben Hogan
1945 PGA Championship (2) N/A 4 & 3 4 strokes Flag of United States Sam Byrd

Note: The PGA Championship was match play until 1958
1 Defeated Craig Wood and Denny Shute in 36-hole playoff—Nelson (68-70=138), Wood (68-73=141), Shute (76) (eliminated after first 18)
2 Defeated Ben Hogan in 18-hole playoff—Nelson (69), Hogan (70)

Notes

  1. Art Stricklin, Grace, style and morality: Nelson will be known as "legend who will never fade." Retrieved August 23, 2007.
  2. Peter Kessler, Golf's great gentleman looks back—and ahead. Retrieved August 23, 2007.
  3. Grant Boone, Full Nelson (Grant Me This column). Retrieved August 23, 2007.

References

  • Companiotte, John. Byron Nelson: The Most Remarkable Year in the History of Golf. Triumph Books, 2006. ISBN 978-1572438132
  • Golf Channel. Byron Nelson: A Texas Gentleman (DVD). Golf Channel, 2006.
  • Nelson, Byron. The Little Black Book. Summit Publishing Group, 1996. ISBN 978-1565302365
  • Nelson, Byron. How I Played the Game. Taylor Trade Publishing, 1993. ISBN 978-0878338191

External links


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