Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Columns

May 22, 2010

STRINGER: Byron Nelson: Golfer and Gentleman

Corsicana — One of the most prestigious tournaments on the PGA tour has been played this past week in Dallas and honors one of the game’s greatest players, Byron Nelson.

Nelson was born near Waxahachie in 1912, but he moved with his family to Fort Worth when he was 11 years old. Shortly thereafter, he began caddying at Glen Garden Country Club. Since the club did not allow caddies to play the course, Nelson would practice at night, placing a white handkerchief on the hole so he could find it in the dark. At age 14 he defeated a fellow caddy named Ben Hogan in tournament among club caddies.

Nelson’s professional career began with a victory in the New Jersey Open in 1936. Between 1937 and 1942, he won the U.S. Open, the Masters, and the PGA Championship twice. He finished second two other times. As impressive as those accomplishments are, they pale in comparison to his performance in 1944 and 1945. In 1944, he won seven tournaments, was the leading money winner on the tour, and averaged 69.6 strokes per round for the 85 rounds he played that year on the tour. The following year Nelson won 19 tournaments, including 11 in a row, average 68 strokes per round for his 120 rounds of tournament play. By the end of that two year span, he had finished in the money in 113 consecutive tournaments.

In a tournament in Seattle, he shot a round of 62 and finished with a course record of 259 for the 72 holes. In 1946 at the age of 34, Nelson retired from the PGA tour, playing in only a few selected tournaments each year. His last victory was in the 1955 French Open. Altogether, he recorded victories in 54 PGA-sanctioned events. The Associated Press twice named him male athlete of the year.

Some golfing fans claim Nelson may have been the greatest to ever play the game, based on his performance. Others contend that his records are somewhat tainted in that many of the game’s best players were in the military during World War II when Nelson was compiling his amazing statistics. In other words, the level of competition was sub-par during his peak performance years.

In addition to his remarkable records on the golf course, Nelson was highly regarded for his kind and gentle spirit and his Christian example. One observer commented that Nelson’s discipleship dictated his decency, demeanor, decision-making, and how he dealt with people — a champion and a gentleman. There may be debate about the greatest golfer, Byron Nelson was the game’s finest man, hands down. He died in 2007 at the age of 94 and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal the following year. 

—————

Dr. Tommy Stringer is executive director of the Navarro College Foundation. He may be reached by e-mail at tommy.stringer@navarrocollege.edu. Want to “Soundoff” on this column? E-mail: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

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