This Week at WorldGolf.com: Sept. 27, 2006
A tip of the cap to a legend of the game: Byron Nelson leaves the course on top at 94
It is with no small sense of irony that Byron Nelson came into this world within months of Sam Snead and Ben Hogan in 1912, and left the world a few weeks after Patty Berg, the brilliant female golfer who helped create the LPGA. Such was the company Lord Byron kept throughout his brilliant career and life.
Every bit the honorable Texan throughout his life, Nelson was a player who helped define golf as a major sport in the United States. Long before fans of golf could point to Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods as true athletes who just happened to be golfers, they could point to Nelson.
"I have big hands, but with a lot of feel," Nelson told The New York Times in 1993. "The Lord gave me good coordination, a great rhythm, and wonderful balance. I had an absolutely uncanny judgment of distance. And even though folks couldn't always see it, I had a very big desire to achieve. I got pretty steamed up inside."
It was that inner drive to succeed and achieve that made Nelson a legend. His 1945 campaign goes down with one of the great years that any athlete has ever compiled - 18 victories, including an incomprehensible 11 in a row. Like he had been the year prior, Nelson was named the male athlete of the year by the Associated Press.
And in showing how far golf has come - Nelson's winnings for his miraculous 1945 season amounted to $63,000 in war bonds.
"What I did in 1945 was mostly a mental achievement," Nelson, who counted five majors among his 52 career victories, wrote in his memoir: How I Played the Game. "In those days, I could drive the ball so well that I would really get bored. I just decided I was not going to hit one careless shot."
When a man like Nelson leaves us after such a full, accomplished life at age 94, it is not a time for sadness but for celebration. Nonetheless, there is a touch of whimsy to Nelson's passing because while the PGA and LPGA Tours are now being run exclusively as corporations, with the players being the product, Byron Nelson played simply because he wanted to be the best. He hoped he could earn enough to buy a ranch. And like everything else he did, he succeeded in those goals.
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