TURNED PRO: 1932; RETIRED: 1946

AWARDS: AP Male Athlete of the Year in 1944 and 1945. Vardon Trophy in 1939. PGA Tour leading money winner in 1944 and 1945.

HONORS: Elected to the PGA Hall of Fame in 1953 and to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974. Received the USGA’s Bob Jones Award in 1974.

VICTORIES: 52 PGA co-sponsored and/or approved tournaments.

MAJORS WON: 5 – 1937 Masters; 1939 U.S. Open; 1940 PGA Championship; 1942 Masters and 1945 PGA Championship.

Highlights

• Made the cut in 113 consecutive PGA Tour events, second all-time.

• Won 18 PGA Tour events, including a record 11 straight, in 1945.

• Played on Ryder Cup teams in 1937 and 1947 and was a non-playing captain of the 1965 team.

• Finished in the Top 10 in 65 consecutive tournaments from 1942 to 1946.

• The EDS Byron Nelson Championship is the only PGA Tour stop named after a professional golfer.

By The Associated Press
Golf icon Nelson dies

DALLAS – Golf icon Byron Nelson, a man revered for his benevolence and humility as much as his on-course accomplishments died Tuesday at the age of 94.

A family friend said Nelson died at his Roanoke, Texas, home around noon, and his death was later confirmed by the Tarrant County medical examiner. He is survived by his wife of nearly 20 years, Peggy.

To Texas golf fans, he was a home-grown institution. His golf life was a folk tale that spanned eight decades – from when he learned to play as a 12-year-old caddie at Fort Worth’s Glen Garden Country Club to his decades as the grandfatherly namesake of the Byron Nelson Classic in Irving.

To national golf fans and historians, he was Lord Byron, owner of two of golf’s oldest, most exalted and, many believe, least breakable records.

Nelson amassed 18 victories during the 1945 season. During one stretch that year, he won 11 consecutive starts, a run that dwarfs golf’s next-best streak, six. Another record Nelson always called his most satisfying was the 113 consecutive cuts he made during the 1940s a feat unmatched until Tiger Woods surpassed him en route to a new record of 142.

Nelson won five major championships: The 1937 and 1942 Masters, the 1940 and 1945 PGA Championships and the 1939 U.S. Open.

Even his swing was the stuff of legend. As wood-shafted golf clubs were being converted to steel, he was the first notable player to incorporate his feet and legs for extra power. He is widely credited as being the father of the modern swing, to the extent that the U.S. Golf Association’s club-testing apparatus is called the “Iron Byron.”

But to peers, friends and even fans who met him in passing, Nelson the person transcended the golf legend. That may be his most towering attainment of all.

“Byron is an icon of golf,” said eight-time major champion Tom Watson, Nelson’s longtime friend and protege. “But more important, he was a good man, in the true sense of the word.”

Nelson walked away from full-time competition at 34 because he was tired of the grind. But he never grew weary of golf.

Nelson, who “retired” to his Roanoke ranch, couldn’t escape the fame his success brought him. So he used it to help others, putting his name on a Dallas tournament that would become a tour model for its record amounts of money raised for charity.

In the process, Nelson became one of golf’s goodwill ambassadors, traveling to tournaments across the country to recruit players and organizing other aspects of what is known as the EDS Byron Nelson Championship.

The tournament is the only one bearing the name of a former player. And it is that name that has kept the world’s best players coming back, contributing to the Salesmanship Club Youth and Family Centers, Inc.

Nelson did more than lend his name. He got actively involved, meeting with Salesmanship Club officials, and visiting players and tournament officials at events.

As the gracious host, Nelson made lasting impressions. While making an appearance in Los Angeles, he made a point of meeting Tiger Woods when the teenager was playing a junior event.

Nelson stayed in touch as Woods developed his skills and invited Woods to play in his tournament as an amateur in 1993. Now the world’s No. 1 player for years, Woods has played the event most years since turning pro

“He has been great,” Woods said in January 2002. “I’ll never forget when he pulled me aside … and basically gave his opinion on my game and things that might be pitfalls in the future, what I should do. I was pretty impressionable, a really young kid, and he was a guy I idolized. He didn’t have to do that. It really touched me. Without a doubt, Mr. Nelson has been one of the role models of my life.”

Hundreds of professional golfers, from the 1930s into the 21st century, were fortunate to get to know Nelson as a golf legend, TV analyst and ambassador. Far more fortunate were those who became Nelson’s close friends and, in some respects, his proteges.

Watson and Ken Venturi were the most notable golfers tutored by Nelson after his playing career ended. Both attributed much of their career success to Nelson’s guidance.

“I was always grateful, not only for what he’s done for my golf game, but for our friendship,” said Watson, who has 39 career victories, including five British Open titles.

“He was always very positive, even when I was playing poorly. He helped me in a lot of ways, from chipping, to bunker play, to putting, to shaping your shots, to hitting the ball low.”

Nelson once said his willingness to help young players probably stemmed from an exchange following the 1930 Texas Open in San Antonio.

An amateur at the time, Nelson had teamed with a Scottish pro named Bobby Cruickshank to finish second in the pro-am competition. Afterward, a proud Nelson figured he had a compliment coming from Cruickshank.

“Laddie, if you don’t learn how to grip the club right,” Cruickshank told him, “you’ll never make a good player.”

“Thank you, very much,” responded Nelson. He returned home to Fort Worth and revamped his grip. Like many caddies-turned-players at the time, he had his left hand too far over the top of the club and tended to hook the ball to get more roll.

Nelson studied and copied Harry Vardon’s overlapping grip and, of course, became one of golf’s greatest players, winning 54 tour events and five major titles.

In 1952, Venturi was a promising amateur out of San Francisco when a mutual friend, Eddie Lowery, asked Nelson to help Venturi.

“When I was 13 years old, I watched Mr. Nelson win the San Francisco Open,” Venturi said. “I came back home to Mother and said that I saw Byron Nelson and wanted to be like him, not knowing that in 1952 Byron would take me under his wing and teach me all he knew about the game.

“He taught me one thing (above all) as the years went by,” Venturi said. “I sum it up as “Be good to the game and give back.’ “

Venturi’s career was cut short by a nerve problem in his hands but not before he won the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club enduring heat and exhaustion.

Venturi became a CBS analyst. It was during the 1999 Byron Nelson Classic that Venturi was named U.S. captain for the 2000 Presidents Cup.

“I hope I’ve made you proud, Byron,” Venturi told Nelson during the news conference. “Because I had a great teacher. Not only do I respect you, I love you very much.”


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