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.
 
Email your thoughts to George White
 
Related Links:
  • News: Byron Nelson Dies at Age 94
  • Getty Images

    Watch: Hahn slam-dunks ace on 11th hole

    By Golf Channel DigitalJune 23, 2018, 7:20 pm

    There are aces, and there are slam-dunk aces. No question which one this one by James Hahn on the 154-yard 11th hole was.

    It was Hahn's first ace on the PGA Tour.

    Getty Images

    Els' nephew Rebula wins Amateur Championship

    By Golf Channel DigitalJune 23, 2018, 7:05 pm

    Ernie Els is one proud uncle.

    His nephew, Jovan Rebula, won the Amateur Championship on Saturday at Royal Aberdeen to become the first South African to capture the title since Bobby Cole in 1966.

    Rebula, a junior at Auburn, will join his famous uncle in Carnoustie next month for The Open. He also will get invites to the 2019 Masters and the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

    Rebula defeated Ireland's Robin Dawson, 3 and 2, in the 36-hole final.

    "It’s unreal," Rebula said. "It’s really something that is hard to describe. I feel like many have been in this position before but it’s an unreal feeling. It hasn’t sunk in quite yet but hopefully tomorrow morning I can wake up and I will feel a little different."

    Rebula received plenty of texts from Els throughout the week, and the encouragement paid off. Rebula opened a 1-up lead after 18 holes, and he extended his advantage by winning the 26th and 27th holes. He was 5 up with six to play before finally closing out Dawson on the 16th hole with an up-and-down from the bunker.

    "It’s been a long week and especially today," Rebula said. "I should have finished maybe a couple of holes earlier, but it’s been awesome. A very tiring week. I’m standing here right now and there’s so much adrenaline pumping through me."

    Getty Images

    Squirrel gets Rory's round off to a rocky start

    By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 6:42 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy’s third round at the Travelers Championship got off to a peculiar start before he even hit a shot.

    McIlroy had just been introduced on the first tee at TPC River Highlands and was ready to unload on his opening drive of the day when a squirrel ran across the tee box a few feet in front of him.

    McIlroy stopped his swing and laughed it off, but the squirrel continued to linger for several seconds, criss-crossing from one side of the packed tee box to the other. And while this was no black cat, the pump-fake to start his round didn’t exactly help the Ulsterman.

    McIlroy ultimately blocked his drive into the right rough after enduring his brief rodent delay en route to an opening bogey, and amid soft conditions at TPC River Highlands he played his first five holes in 2 over. McIlroy started the day at 7 under, three shots behind leader Brian Harman.

    Getty Images

    Kaymer in six-way tie for BMW International lead

    By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 5:29 pm

    PULHEIM, Germany - Danish golfer Lucas Bjerregaard shot a 5-under 67 to equal the week's lowest round for a six-way share of the lead after the third round of the BMW International Open on Saturday.

    Bjerregaard had eight birdies, a double bogey and a bogey to finish on 5-under 211 - jumping 23 places and joining local favorites Martin Kaymer and Maximilian Kieffer, England's Chris Paisley and Aaron Rai, and Australia's Scott Hend at the top of the leaderboard.

    Bjerregaard was fortunate to play before the wind picked up again later in the afternoon.


    Full-field scores from the BMW International Open


    Kaymer, the 2008 champion, delighted the home supporters with two birdies in his last three holes for a 71.

    Finland's Mikko Korhonen and Chile's Nico Geyger were one shot off the lead after rounds of 69 and 73, respectively.

    Defending champion Andres Romero equaled the week's best round (67) to be among a large group two shots off the lead going into Sunday, including three-time European Tour winner Andy Sullivan.

    Romero is bidding to be the first player to retain the title.