Golf great Byron Nelson dead at 94
Byron Nelson, who had the greatest year in the history of professional golf when he won 18 tournaments in 1945, including a record 11 in a row, died on Tuesday. He was 94.
His death was confirmed by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office. No cause of death was listed on its website.
Known as Lord Byron for his elegant swing and gentle manner, Nelson won 31 of 54 tournaments in 1944/45.
Then, at age 34, he retired after the 1946 season to spend more time on his Texas ranch.
“When I was playing regularly, I had a goal,” Nelson recalled years later. “I could see the prize money going into the ranch, buying a tractor, or a cow. It gave me incentive.”
That incentive pushed Nelson to become one of the best players of his era. He won the US Masters in 1937 and 1942, the US Open in 1939 and the US PGA Championship in 1940 and 1945.
He also finished second once in the US Open, twice in the American Masters and three times in the US PGA. Nelson played in British Open only twice, finishing fifth in 1937.
Nelson’s long, fluid swing is considered the model of the modern way to strike a golf ball and his kind, caring style with fans and competitors made him one of the most well-liked people in sports.
“I don’t know very much,” Nelson said in a 1997 interview with The Associated Press (AP). “I know a little bit about golf. I know how to make a stew. And I know how to be a decent man.”
His second British Open was in 1955, when he was no longer a serious competitor, although he did win the French Open on that trip for his last professional victory. His prize money, however, was not enough to pay the hotel bill.
“I had to put up another $200 (â,¬158),” he told the AP with a huge smile.
Nelson was born on February 4 1912 on the family farm and started in golf in 1922 as a caddie at Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth.
One year, he won the caddies’ championship, defeating Ben Hogan in a play-off.
It was the beginning of a rivalry that never really materialised. Though they were born six months apart, Nelson won all five of his major championships before he was 34 and Hogan won all nine of his after he was 34.
After graduating from school, Nelson got a job as a file clerk in the accounting office of the Forth Worth and Denver Railroad and played golf in his spare time.
He lost his job during the Great Depression but found work in 1931 with a bankers’ magazine. The same year, he entered his first tournament, the National Amateur in Chicago, where he missed qualifying by one stroke. With jobs hard to find, he turned professional in 1932.
Nelson started out competing against Gene Sarazen and lived to see Tiger Woods, an era that went from hickory shafts to titanium heads.
He made an appearance each year at the US Masters, joining Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen in hitting the ceremonial first balls, and hosted the Byron Nelson Classic each May.
“I did not ever dream in my wildest imagination there would be as much money or that people would hit the ball so far,” Nelson said in his 1997 interview with AP.
“I only won $182Â 000 in my whole life,” he said. “In 1937, I got fifth-place money at the British Open—$187—and it cost me $3Â 000 to play because I had to take a one-month leave of absence from my club job to go.”
As a haemophiliac, Nelson was excused from military service during World War II. But despite the weak fields, his accomplishments in the war years were astounding.
In 1944, he won 13 of the 23 tournaments he played. The following year he won a record 18 times in 31 starts, including 11 in a row—also a record. Nelson finished second seven times in 1945, was never out of the top 10 and at one point played 19 consecutive rounds under 70. His stroke average of 68,33 for the season is still the record.
Nelson’s 52 US PGA Tour victories—a milestone surpassed by Woods this year—was sixth on the career list behind Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Woods. He was elected to the US PGA Hall of Fame in 1953 and to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.—Sapa-AP