Personal Encounters With Byron

By George WhiteOctober 3, 2006, 4:00 pm
One final Byron Nelson article, this from several people who were lucky enough to have had personal encounters:
  • I had a brief encounter with Mr. Nelson at the first tee of the par-3 contest at the Masters when my son, Bo Van Pelt, invited me to caddy for him in his first Masters appearance. Afterwards, we posed for a few cherished pictures to savor that moment in time. Bo very quietly said, 'Dad, this is Mr. Byron Nelson.' We shook hands and Mr. Nelson said, 'Mr. Van Pelt, this has to be a very special moment for you and your son. It was a humble understatement. In that brief moment we understood that we were in the presence of greatness, a grace and humility that God grants to very special people.

  • I worked with him on an article when I edited the Arizona Golf Journal 20 years ago. I met Byron Nelson on a golf course in Scottsdale. I also was nervous about trying to connect with him on a project but I had to try. He said, 'Sure, I'll talk to you, just call me, I'm in the phonebook under Nelson.' ... I made the call only to set up an appointment, so as not to impose. He answered the phone, asked me how I was doing, took a minute to introduce me to his wife Peggy, and asked me to call back in 45 minutes - he was eating supper and had to get the dishes out of the way. When I called back, we talked for 45 minutes, some to the point of my article and some on the ranch my mother grew up on in northern Arizona.

  • The year: 1968. The setting: the customer waiting area a car dealership in Dallas. I was a 25-year-old sometime assistant golf pro and sometime player.
    There were only two of us in the waiting area: me and Mr. Byron Nelson. I asked him what it took to be a pro. Without hesitation he said, Let's have a look at your grip. There were no clubs in the waiting area, but there was a thick phone line that dangled from one of the old style push-button phones with a bank of about 10 lines. He handed me the cord. I placed my hands on it and he made some adjustments: weakened my left and strengthened my right. It was an example of great honesty, integrity to the game, and his humility.

  • Early in 1989, Mr. Nelson and D. A. Weibring had purchased the Riverside Golf club in Grand Prairie, TX. I played the course the initial day it reopened. They were having a 'beat the pro day' with Mr. Weibring on one of the par 3's. While playing up to that hole I noticed a cart with an older gentleman and younger lady moving on an adjacent hole. I told my playing partner that I thought the gentleman looked a lot like Byron Nelson. Much to our surprise, when we reached the par 3 eighth, there was Mr. Weibring standing next to Byron Nelson! There was a small backup on the tee and we had about 5 or 10 minutes to speak with these two gentlemen. I found Mr. Nelson to be an extremely gracious man and an absolute joy to talk with. Prior to leaving the tee to go to the green, we convinced Mr. Nelson to hit a shot to the green for us. He used my 1979 Ben Hogan Apex II 6 iron and while the shot was not hit solidly, that did not matter. I had an opportunity to see a living legend strike a golf ball with one of my clubs! To this day, I still own that set of irons and would not part with them for any amount of money.

  • Almost 8 years ago, I had the (fill-in the blank) to call Mr. Nelson to see if I could visit with him in his home. I was fairly new to the game, but had passionately fallen in love with the game, its history, and heroes. I thought to myself, 'Why not, the worst thing he could say was no.' But not Mr. Nelson. With a dry twisted-tongue and butterflies flying out of formation, I called and he graciously agreed to meet in two days at 9:30 am. The half-hour visit flew by, but I felt that I had easily experienced 60 years of golf history! Before leaving, I asked Mr. Nelson if he would sign my copy of his little black book. It, along with two other little golf books, has its very own place in my room!

  • For many of us average (or below average) golfers that were lucky enough to see him at his tournament, Byron was always friendly and would wave, patiently sign autographs, and talk about the sport he loved so much. In my case, because I lived in Roanoke (Texas) for 10 years, I was lucky enough to see him several times. EVERYONE there loved Byron and they will certainly miss him.

  • I stood behind him in a gallery at the Memorial Tournament one year, and my friend was prodding me to talk to him. All I could do was just stare at him from the side, too shy to approach. I wish I had the nerve then, now.
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  • Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

    Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

    By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

    Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

    “I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

    Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

    According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

    Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

    Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

    “He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

    Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.