Saturday, October 4, 2008

Golf Legends - Byron Nelson

Image Courtesy: Pat Perez Golf

The year 1945 in the game of golf will forever be associated with Byron Nelson. That year "Lord Byron" won 18 tournaments which included 11 tournament wins in a row. A record that still stands the test of time. Some say it is a record even more impressive than Joe De Maggio’s 56 game hitting streak. His 113 consecutive cuts made are second only to Tiger's 142 a streak that was snapped at the U.S.Open in 2006. But Byron Nelson's 113 consecutive cuts is a feat far more impressive than Tiger's achievement. According to the existing rules "The PGA Tour defines a cut as receiving a paycheck, even if an event has no cut per se. In Nelson's era, only the top 20 in a tournament received a check.”

In reality, Nelson's "113 consecutive cuts made" are representative of his unequaled 113 consecutive top 20 tournament finishes. Such a feat has never been accomplished by any other player. In the modern era, any player who makes the cut receives a pay but Nelson's feat is truly unparalleled because of the rule the PGA Tour had back then for cuts made.

A little known fact about his early days was that he caddied along with Ben Hogan at the Glen Garden Country Club and even beat him there in a tournament held for the caddies. Even though in 1945, some of the professionals on tour including Hogan were sent for active war duty, it would be unfair to say, that phenomenal win streak was because of a weakened field. Most of the top professionals played through the year and other than him, the other great during that period in Golf, Sam Snead, also won multiple tournaments. The reason why Byron Nelson was not sent for war duty was a peculiar health condition. It took his blood a lot more time to congeal than what is considered the norm.

He gave up golf the year after his special achievement because he wanted to spend more time in becoming what he thought was the reason for him to be on earth, a Rancher. The only reason he claimed he tried to win and in the process won 52 events on the PGA Tour was to get money to invest in his ranch. Obviously the windfall in 1945 ensured that his cattle would never have to worry about their next meal. The reason he took to Golf and chose to become a pro was because he had no other option. That was the period of The Great Depression and it meant he had no stable job and hence he took to the game as a source for earning income. This was one job he was never going to lose.

He was the first golfer after whom a professional event on the tour had been named, the EDS Byron Nelson Championship. Last year was the first time the event was played in his absence. He passed away in September 2006 and was awarded the U.S. Congressional Medal posthumously. It is the highest civilian award and he joined a club that includes the likes of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and many other great people.

A great golfer and an even better human being.

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