My Time with Golfs Gentleman

By George WhiteSeptember 26, 2006, 4:00 pm
As great a golfer as he was, Byron Nelson had something about him which was far more difficult to achieve ' he was universally loved, respected and admired.
 
I cant honestly say that I really knew Mr. Nelson. Over the past 30 years Ive had the standard number of professional chit-chats, the requisite amount of interviewer-interviewee talks. But I have known a number of people in the golf profession who knew him as a friend. And to a person, they have universally lauded him as a kind, tender sort of man who was always the same to every person, be they a king, a president or an everyday son of the soil.
 
I first met and spoke with Mr. Nelson long ago at the Masters golf tournament. He walked into the dining room of the clubhouse and I recognized him immediately. Heart palpitating and tongue in a knot, I sidled up to him. An interview with Byron Nelson ' dare I even grasp at the possibility?
 
And he was as kind, as gracious a person as I have ever met. He gladly acceded to my halting attempts to question him. He patiently answered the usual questions for the thousandth time, explaining what thoughts went through his head as he piled up win after win en route to his incredible 11-victory streak in 1945. He spoke of the differences that he had seen in the Masters from the time he began playing in the mid-'30s and what it had become in the 80s.
 
I only spoke to him for perhaps 10 minutes. But it was awe-inspring; and at the same time it was very comfortable. Here was living, breathing history talking to me, but he was chatting to me in the same relaxed, down-home manner as my grandfather would.
 
Down through the decades, I have had the pleasure of listening to him discuss numerous topics in mass-interview situations. One of the annual highlights of the tournament which he sponsors ' the EDS Byron Nelson Championship ' was the Wednesday sitdown with the media when reporters were encouraged to ask whatever was on their minds and he rambled on about whatever topic they chose.
 
Mr. Nelson was always a gracious individual. Though he quit playing the professional golf tour at the age of 34 ' he had won enough, he said, to buy his ranch and settle down ' he never became fixated on how great he might have been. Instead, he gladly gave credit to others ' Tiger Woods, he felt, was a much better golfer than he. So was Jack Nicklaus. That was just Mr. Nelson.
 
The only thing that got his dander up was when someone slighted his record of 11 consecutive wins in 45. And then, he became irritated as much because he perceived his opposition was being downrated as he felt he personally was maligned. And the same was true as Tiger approached, then passed, his record of cuts made. It wasnt that he didnt feel Tiger deserved the mark. It was much more that he wanted to glorify the players against whom he, Byron Nelson, competed.
 
Nelson, you see, played during a time when often only 20 or so players would be paid. And those were the players who were considered to have made the cut. The fact that he survived 113 cuts was always a point of great pride, maybe as much as winning the 11 straight and 18 overall in 1945.
 
A blood disorder kept him from being eligible for military service in World War II. So he continued to play during the war years. But in 1946 he had had enough of the sporting scene and of being a hero. He bought his ranch near Fort Worth, settled down, and became just John Q. Everyman. How common a man was he? He had his name in the phone book - no private number for this very public gentleman.
 
The fact that he could have become the worlds greatest golfer didnt faze him. He didnt play for the records ' he played primarily to make the money where he could return to a simple, private life. And when he earned enough that he could settle into comfortable retirement, he did exactly that.
 
But I will always remember what he did for a scared young reporter who approached him nervously at Augusta . There has never been a man like Mr. Nelson. And ' oh, by the way ' he also was a great golfer.
 
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Related Links:
  • News: Byron Nelson Dies at Age 94
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    Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

    Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

    Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

    Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

    McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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    Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

    By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

    Memo to the golf gods:

    If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

    Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

    It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

    With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

    It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

    We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

    We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

    Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.


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    Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

    We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

    In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

    While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

    Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

    Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

    Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

    While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

    Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

    So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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    McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

    By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

    With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

    The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

    Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

    "I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

    McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

    But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

    "I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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    What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

    Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

    Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

    Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

    Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

    Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

    Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

    Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

    Ball: Titleist Pro V1x