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September 26, 2006

Byron Nelson Dies: The "gentleman golfer" died today at age 94 at his home in Roanoke, Texas, on Eleven Straight Lane, a street that got its name from the 11 straight tournaments he won in 1945 -- which Tiger Woods calls the best season a golfer has ever had.

posted by rcade to golf at 05:26 PM - 19 comments

A great loss to the sport in particular, and the world in general. He was a fine gentleman. Byron and Ben Hogan will be golfing together again soon, I hope.

posted by mjkredliner at 05:41 PM on September 26

A true legend that was just like one of us. For those that don't know, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan were caddies at the same club when they were kids. According Mr. Nelson himself, Ben Hogan was the popular one and Byron was the quiet one in the corner. This is like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig playing on the same little league team. Bryon Nelson retired at the age of 34 to go back home, back to his favorite place, his ranch. Byron: "I know little about golf, I do know how to make a stew, I'm just an ordinary guy." Bryon Nelson, a true legend in sports.

posted by ryemonster at 05:52 PM on September 26

Here in Dallas this is headline news. Byron Nelson had a big tournament here annually for charity.He had a big heart and was a great humanitarian along with being one of the greatest golfers the world ever saw.One sportscaster described him as the Tiger Woods of his day. I'm waitinfg for Tiger to do something besides make money.

posted by sickleguy at 07:05 PM on September 26

The Tiger Woods Foundation. Tiger's benevolence is well documented.

posted by mjkredliner at 07:17 PM on September 26

I agree with everything above except for the cheap shot at Tiger, who's doing what he can. Byron Nelson was a class act his entire long happy life, and he also just happened to be (easily) one of the half-dozen greatest golfers to ever pick up a club.

posted by chicobangs at 08:01 PM on September 26

What an amazing story. All that rolled into 94 years. The depression, the war, the golf, his tournament (Ben Crenshaw quoted something like 80million to children's charities in North Texas tonight on TGC). Wow. One thing I remember distinctly from his tournament this year was watching him just loving the action and all those pros climbing those stairs and spending a moment thanking him, before they signed their cards. sickleguy, poor form to say the least.

posted by YukonGold at 08:18 PM on September 26

Well that sure sounds like a long and complete life. We would all be very happy to be so lucky. Good job, Mr. Nelson.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 09:08 PM on September 26

what a great man 1st--great golfer 2nd--and he walked away at age 34. lol--read envy in that last statment

posted by jim222 at 09:16 PM on September 26

.

posted by geekyguy at 10:31 PM on September 26

Byron Nelson was a true gentleman to the sport. Not a showboat like the champions of the present tend to be. Eleven victories in one season is a record that will stand for a long time. A real class act. The world of golf has lost a great man. Farewell.

posted by Psycho at 09:08 AM on September 27

Mr. Nelson was the Tiger Woods of his day. We make a big deal about Tiger winning 6 tournaments in a row. Can you only imagine winning 11 in a row and 18 for a season? If there was ever a record that will never be broken, those two are it. Mr. Nelson was a gentleman and a great person. He will be very much missed by everyone who plays golf.

posted by dbt302 at 09:12 AM on September 27

The great three born in 1912; Hogan, Snead and Nelson are now all gone. Mr. Nelson had the greatest single year in golf, yet he will be remembered, in the Dallas area for sure, as the kind, decent charitable person and the "Good Man" he proclaimed as his goal in life.

posted by jaygolf at 09:40 AM on September 27

Mr. Nelson had the greatest single year in golf It should be noted that his two greatest years in golf were at the tail end of the war. Much like baseball, hockey and football, I wonder if the talent pool during those years were less than top notch? It's still a great achievement, but it might not be as other-worldly as some people might think. Nevertheless, the golf world has definitely lost one of its greats, and a gentleman of the sport.

posted by grum@work at 11:56 AM on September 27

It should be noted that his two greatest years in golf were at the tail end of the war. Much like baseball, hockey and football, I wonder if the talent pool during those years were less than top notch? They addressed that on NPR this morning with John Feingold: he said Nelson's stroke average that year was the best ever (I think).

posted by yerfatma at 03:06 PM on September 27

Thank you yerfatma, that was an excellent summary of Byron's career by Feinstein. And yes, his stroke average for that year is unmatched, somewhere I once read that he was a cumulative 320 shots under par for that year. We have lost a giant. pgatour.com has some great tributes as well.

posted by mjkredliner at 03:34 PM on September 27

Feinstein obviously hasn't dropped by today, but didn't anyone else read the links at all? Mr. Nelson's 1945 scoring mark of 68.33 strokes per round was not broken until Woods averaged 68.17 in 2000. Eleven in a row, eighteen in a season - incredible winning streak, but note Tiger's language (in the links) when he's talking about it - very reverential, but certainly not saying that no one will ever beat it. I'm looking forward to reading some decent obituarys in the coming days (all we're getting so far are soundbites and lists of achievements). Hell of a player and sounds like he was a really nice man. I suspect someone out there will write something wonderful about him.

posted by JJ at 06:07 PM on September 27

Well, at the risk of sounding like a homer, or a Byron Nelson apologist, (and, I confess to having had a deep admiration for Mr. Nelson most of my life) I would like to say a few things about his career, as it may be the last chance to do so in a long while. First, Byron's stroke average of 68.33 SPR in 1945 was set using only his strokes as a baseline, not this convoluted formula that has been in use by the Tour since 1995, and which inevitably adjusts Tiger's average downward, since he usually plays the tougher courses/events on Tour. Also, Byron's SPR mark was set on courses that, due to lack of money because of wartime needs, were often not manicured to the standards of the day, much less today's standards. Also, he traveled by car, his equipment (particularly the balls) was inferior to todays, and he played twice as many tournaments (30) that year than Tiger usually does. Lee Trevino in Golf Digest: "I look at his scoring average (68.33) and say, that was impressive. If you gave him todays equipment then that average might have been in the 65 range. It's amazing what he did." Additionally, he lost a good many opportunities to win not just average, run-of-the-mill tournaments, but also, majors that were not played due to WWII. As you can see, he was very much a factor in the majors (3 wins, 10 top 5's) prior to the war, and had 6 more top 10 finishes in the Masters AFTER HE RETIRED from competitive golf! Also, he is credited with winning 52 tournamants in 14 years, but the actual total was 66. Those 14 tournaments did not count even though they were official Tour events because they offered less than a $2500 total purse, and, in fact, if one were to correct that abberration, he actually won 13 in a row during his 1945 streak! And, one does not have to have much imagination to speculate that he may have very easily exceeded Sam Snead's record of 82 wins had he not retired at age 34. Yet, when asked how he would have fared on today's Tour, Byron, as ever his modest self, merely smiled and said, "Well, I don't think I would have gone hungry!" Which, he and others did on the Tour many times in those days. Byron was most proud of the fact that his tournament, The Byron Nelson Classic, had given more to charity than any other stop on Tour, (almost $100 million to date) and that says more about him than anything else I can say. The world is a lesser place with his passing.

posted by mjkredliner at 01:30 AM on September 28

And at the risk of sounding contrary: Woods 68.17 scoring average in 2000 was unadjusted (his adjusted average for that season was 67.79 - nearly a shot and a half better than the man in second place (Phil) - and he didn't have a round over par after 7th May). It was calculated from his scores in 19 tournaments. Your points about the standard of the courses and the travelling are valid to an extent, but there are other factors to consider. Nelson didn't play any 7,000 yard monsters, he didn't play on greens so slick you couldn't look at them without your eyeballs taking the break, and he didn't have the media circus surrounding him that Woods had in 2000. The equipment debate goes on and on and will never be resolved - then, the equipment was worse, but the courses were easier; now the equipment is better, but the courses are harder - but you can never say which state of affairs provides the overall net easiest playing conditions. The war was a huge factor in what he did - yes, Hogan and Snead were around, but the overall strength-in-depth of the fields was lost. I don't think it lessens what he did mind you - you can only beat what's put in front of you - so I think we just blame Hitler and move on. You can pontificate about what he might have done had he not retired all you like, but again, we can't know. His goal in life wasn't to win golf tournaments, it was to buy his ranch. Once he'd bought it, there were no more worlds to conquer for him. That said, it's amusing that he kept turning up for the odd tournament here and there for years afterwards and spanking the majority of the field just to remind them he still could if he wanted to. Don't get me wrong, I admire him and what he did, but I don't want to fall too deeply into those misty-filtered montages they are no doubt scattering like confetti all over the golf channel at the moment.

posted by JJ at 04:35 AM on September 28

I stand corrected. Tiger's SPR mark for the 2000 season was indeed lower. Thank you for setting the record straight, JJ.

posted by mjkredliner at 09:27 AM on September 28

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