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Nelson - A Guardian of the Game

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The Texas golf fraternity is a closely-knit, and highly accomplished unit. More Masters champions were born in Texas than any other state and their success in the other major championships is equally as impressive. The community has had enormously prominent names and leaders over the years, but none as revered and respected as Byron Nelson. While his name graces many pages of the PGA Tour record book, his accomplishments and the standards he set off the course are what make him a beloved icon.
 
Having completed his illustrious career, Byron took to the television booth upon his retirement. He shared his stories, strategies and analysis with viewers for many years. His role on ABC allowed him to stay close to the Tour. It allowed him to tend to the game and groom young golfers, particularly those from the Lone Star state.
 
In 1965, a young Texan was trying to hold off two fierce rivals, Nicklaus and Casper on the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship. He had driven into a fairway bunker and had to lay-up on the par-4. He had a blind shot to the elevated green, and knew when he hit his 9 iron, that the shot was a good one. But how good?
 
With adrenaline clouding his mind, a pregnant wife at home who would deliver a son that very day, and the weight of the world on his shoulders, the young man looked up at the announcer's booth to see his friend Byron Nelson standing and pumping his fist. When Byron held his hands two feet apart, my father knew his life had changed. He said to himself 'My God, I've won the PGA'. To have the news delivered to him by a man like Byron Nelson made the victory even sweeter.
 
Later that year, at the Ryder Cup, after getting waxed in the morning 6&5, Captain Nelson stuck with his pairing of Palmer/Marr in the afternoon. That faith re-energized my dad, who won by the same score in the afternoon, and claimed four points in his remaining five matches.
 
Whether providing a pat on the back, words of encouragement or a bit of advice, Byron Nelson has always cared about the game, and its players. That caring is evident in his tournament, a yearly expression of Texas' love for the game, and the game's love for this Texan.
 
Players born decades after Byron's last competitive round come to pay tribute to the man each May. Like Palmer at Bay Hill and Nicklaus at The Memorial, Nelson looks after all aspects of the event, particular about the way his game is represented. Byron still cares deeply about the tournament, its gallery and competitors.
 
The years have sapped his mobility, and health issues have limited his appearances, yet he is still an accessible superstar in this wonderful game, which allows us such close access to our heroes. My brother and I approached him in the clubhouse at Augusta in 1997 and he took the time to tell us wonderful stories about our mother, father and the early days of Texas golf. It's an encounter I still treasure.
 
Tiger Woods has already held all four Major Championship trophies simultaneously. Someone may do it in a single year and match Bobby Jones' feat of 1930. Jack Nicklaus' sums of 18 professional and 20 total Majors might be equaled or surpassed. But no one will win 11 consecutive PGA Tour events again. In more than a half-century the next best streak is barely half of the number reached by Byron Nelson in 1945.
 
Whether it is his remarkable career, his care for the game and its young players, or his patience to take spend time with the fans, you've got to respect Byron Nelson's wide ranging and ongoing contributions. There aren't many people who link the present day game to the early years of the PGA Tour, and the number grows fewer.
 
This week, in Texas, the game honors perhaps the greatest living representative of prewar golf. He honors us all with his presence and personality.