Golfer who won a record-breaking 11 tournaments in a row in 1945 and retired the following year
Thursday 28 September 2006
Byron Nelson, golfer: born Waxahachie, Texas 4 February 1912; twice married; died Roanoke, Texas 26 September 2006.
For 60 years after he retired from playing regular tournament golf Byron Nelson remained one of the most respected figures in the sport. He was known as "Lord Byron" - less for his dominating play on the course as for his gentle demeanour, his good manners, his humility and dignity. He would rate a place in any discussion on the greatest players the game has seen but, as the first gentleman of golf, he had fewer rivals.
In 1945 Nelson achieved two records for victories which remain untouched today. He won an incomprehensible 11 tournaments in a row and 18 in the whole season. "I don't think that anyone will ever exceed the things that Byron did by winning 11 tournaments in a row in one year," said Arnold Palmer:
But I suppose that is not the most admirable thing that he did, although it was certainly tremendous. He was a fantastic person whom I admired from the time I was a boy.
Nelson was born on a cotton farm in Waxahachie, Texas, in 1912. He became one of the golfing legends and was one of three to be born within six months - the others being Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. The trio earned 21 major golf titles among them.
His first experience of golf came at the Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth. He was a caddie at the same time as Hogan and in 1927 Nelson defeated Hogan for the caddies' championship. Unable to find long-term employment in the Great Depression, he turned professional in 1932.
Nelson's career was short but dazzling. He won five major championships, including the United States Open in 1939 and the Masters in 1937 and 1942. He was exempt from war service due to haemophilia and instead went on the greatest winning streak the game has known. Between 1944 and 1946 he won 34 times in 75 tournaments and was only out of the top 10 once.
Tiger Woods nominates Nelson's 11 consecutive wins as "one of the greatest streaks in all of sport". Nelson set another longstanding record by finishing "in the money" in 113 consecutive events. Woods beat this record two years ago but in Nelson's day only the leading 20 or 25 players received any prize money.
As a tall man, Nelson played with his arms close to his body. He swing was upright, with a full shoulder turn and bent knees, utilising the muscles in his hips and legs rather than his wrists. It was a swing to take advantage of the new metal-shafted clubs and his and Hogan's actions remain the two that influence players to this day. His was the most consistent strike of the ball, sending it away straighter more often, and when the United States Golf Association developed a mechanical device to test equipment it was known as "Iron Byron".
At the end of 1946 at the age of 34, Nelson retired with his first wife, Louise, to their ranch at Roanoke, where all his prize money had been used to buy everything, including tractors and cows. He played occasionally still, the French Open in 1955 being the last of his 66 wins around the world, and he never lost touch with the game. He pioneered golf broadcasting on television and mentored several players, including the five-time Open champion Tom Watson.
He hosted a tournament in Dallas every year from 1967. Rather than any cheque, to be congratulated by Nelson and, later, to receive a hand-written note, was the champion's true prize. He attended the Masters every year, acting as an honorary starter and performing the master-of-ceremonies duties at the past champions' dinner.
"I don't know very much," Nelson, who married Peggy after the death of his first wife 20 years ago, told the Associated Press in 1997:
I know a little bit about golf. I know how to make a stew. And I know how to be a decent man.
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