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Nelson Event Goes On Without Lord Byron

DALLAS -- There will be an empty chair at the 18th green of the Byron Nelson Championship. For the first time, the event's namesake and ambassador won't be there.

'The obvious challenge is to carry on and conduct a tournament that is fittingly celebrating of Byron's legacy,' Mac Wesson, president of the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, said Thursday during the kickoff luncheon for this year's tournament.

While Byron Nelson's golf legacy included his 18 victories in 1945, with a mesmerizing streak of 11 in a row that may never be broken, he valued helping others more than his personal records.

The golfer known as 'Lord Byron' was the first to have a PGA TOUR event named after him in 1968. And his presence helped make the tournament a popular stop for players, whom he greeted as they finished their rounds, and the biggest charity fund-raiser on the PGA TOUR. It has given more than $94 million to charities since its inception.

Nelson died of natural causes Sept. 26 at his beloved ranch in Roanoke. He was 94.

'We will never forget the example Byron set. We lost a great friend and a true inspiration,' Wesson said.

'In some ways, it's a new beginning for us,' said golf commentator and Dallas-area resident David Feherty, the keynote speaker. 'Byron would consider this just to be another Byron Nelson (tournament). And we will go ahead exactly as if he were here with us. Because he is, and he always will be.'

Tournament chairman Brooks Cullum said plans are being made for a 'specific event to commemorate Byron' during the week of the April 26-29 tournament. He said there would also be reminders of Nelson on the TPC Four Seasons and Cottonwood Valley courses.

The luncheon Thursday began with a video that included highlights of Nelson's playing career and tributes from golfers such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

'Byron Nelson was one of the greatest players of all time. Not only was he a great player, but a great person,' Palmer said.

Nelson's widow, Peggy, smiled throughout the showing of the video, which ended with an image of Byron Nelson walking in a field at his ranch with the sun setting in the background.

'Byron is where we all want to be someday,' Peggy Nelson told the crowd. 'In the meantime, though, we've got a tournament to run and I'll be there. ... Even if you don't see me on the first tee or at 18, I will be there, and I know you will be there because we all want Byron to say to every one of us, `I'm so proud of you.''

Those were the exact words Byron Nelson spoke to his wife before she left their home for a Bible study Sept. 26. When she returned, Peggy Nelson found her husband of nearly 20 years dead on the back porch, which faces the woodworking shop where he spent much of his free time.

Before a bit filled with self-deprecating humor and witty jabs at former and current golfers, Feherty had some poignant words for Peggy Nelson.

'Byron Nelson was one of the greatest gifts that the game of golf has ever been given, and we in this room were especially lucky, I think, to be close to him over these years,' Feherty said. 'And the fact that you looked after him, and that you made him happy, and that you made him comfortable and that he enjoyed every ounce of his life, I think we owe you a great debt of thanks.'

The purse for the tournament has increased to $6.3 million, up $100,000 over the past two years. It's the 12th increase in 13 years, since the total purse was $1.2 million in 1993-94. This year's winner will get $1.134 million. ... John Daly has accepted a sponsors exemption.

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