Byron Nelson was one of the best golfers of the 1930s and 1940s who retired early, but remained involved with golf into the 21st Century through the PGA Tour tournament named after him.
Date of birth: Feb. 4, 1912
Place of birth: Waxahachie, Texas
Died: Sept. 27, 2006
Nickname: Lord Byron
PGA Tour Victories:
• Masters: 1937, 1942
• U.S. Open: 1939
• PGA Championship: 1940, 1945
Awards and Honors:
• Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
• Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, 1944 and 1945
• PGA Tour Vardon Trophy winner, 1939
• PGA Tour leading money winner, 1944, 1945
• Member, U.S. Ryder Cup team, 1937, 1947
• Captain, U.S. Ryder Cup team, 1965
• Byron Nelson: "Every great player has learned the two Cs: how to concentrate and how to maintain composure."
• Byron Nelson: "Putting affects the nerves more than anything. I would actually get nauseated over three-footers."
• Ken Venturi: "You can always argue who was the greatest player, but Byron is the finest gentleman the game has ever known."
• Arnold Palmer: "Byron Nelson accomplished things on the pro tour that never have been and never will be approached again."
- "Byron" is actually his middle name. His full name is John Byron Nelson Jr.
- For many years Nelson served as one of the honorary starters at The Masters.
Byron Nelson Biography:
Starting in 1942 and ending in 1946, Byron Nelson finished in the Top 10 in 65 consecutive tournaments. Over that full time period, Nelson finished out of the Top 10 only once, winning 34 times and finishing second 16 more times.
Nelson's 1945 season is considered by most the best ever by a male golfer. He won 18 times, including 11 tournaments in a row (see complete record here). He did it with a 68.33 stroke average that was not bested for another 55 years.
Nelson was born south of Fort Worth, where he and Ben Hogan became acquainted as children when both caddied at Glen Garden Country Club. The two squared off for the club's caddie championship in 1927, with Nelson winning.
Nelson turned pro in 1932 and his swing is considered by many golf historians the first "modern" swing (it served as the model for the mechanical testing robot that came to be known as "Iron Byron").
The World Golf Hall of Fame explains:
"Coming of age just as the steel shaft was replacing hickory, Nelson learned that using the big muscles in the hips and legs could be a more reliable, powerful, and effective way to hit a golf ball than the more wristy method that had been employed in the era of hickory. Nelson was particularly noteworthy for the way his swing was more upright and along the target line, employing a full shoulder turn with restricted wrist cock, and for the way he kept his knees flexed in the downswing."
Nelson's first major championship victory was the 1937 Masters; he won the Masters again in 1942 by beating Hogan in an 18-hole playoff. Following his amazing 1945 season, Nelson won six more times in 1946 and then, at the age of 34, retired from full-time competitive golf to buy a ranch in Texas. He played only sparingly afterward.
After his playing days ended, Nelson did some television commentary and also hosted the Byron Nelson Championship on the PGA Tour each year. He mentored many young golfers, among them Ken Venturi and Tom Watson.
Byron Nelson was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974 as part of the inaugural class.