It’s been suggested many times that the glass is either half full or half empty, and, being the eternal optimist, I’m choosing to assume it is half full. I sense that there will be light at the end of this COVID-19 tunnel sooner rather than later.
Personally, being confined to the house is tough enough, so not being allowed to travel to work the golf tournaments requires some new adjustments. Out of nowhere, I had an idea that might help. I went shopping for a new recliner that would come close to replicating a first-class airline seat. The first three or four days, it did seem to help — it lifted my spirits. However, the early euphoria quickly dissipated to more like the feeling of sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off. So, the seat replacement idea went straight into my overcrowded “bad idea” file.
As of today, the PGA Tour is set to resume its tournament schedule the second week of June in Fort Worth, home to Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. In fact, Hogan and Nelson both caddied at the same golf club in the 1920s when they were just 12 years old. They learned the game in the caddie yard at the Glen Garden Golf & Country Club and that was the start of their golf journeys, both historic and legendary.
Hogan and Nelson were both born in 1912, which oddly enough was also the same year Sam Snead was. There’s no other year in the history of any sport that the three greatest participants ever to play the same sport were born in the same year.
Nelson was an incredible man who I got to know quite well. His name still lives on in the title of the annual AT&T Byron Nelson PGA Tour event, which unfortunately was cancelled due to the novel coronavirus this year.
I always considered it a privilege and a thrill to cover the yearly event, and it was always arranged for me to spend quality time with Nelson.
Lord Byron, as he was affectionately known, will forever be remembered for winning 11 consecutive PGA Tour events during his historical 1945 season. I can assure you, it is a record that will never be broken. Byron was an incredible talent, but an even more impressive gentleman.
My favorite Nelson memory took place when he was honored by the World Golf Hall of Fame with a special display of his career accomplishments. Nelson had been inducted in 1974, but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that a new, modern site was built in St. Augustine, FL, that could house all the trappings of the greats of the game. I was invited to speak to and spend some time with this legend of the game — in full view of all his memorabilia, trophies, and recognition. But first, I must digress.
For many years on Monday after the Masters, I would play at one of my favorite courses in the country, the Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, SC, just 45 minutes from Augusta. The Palmetto clubhouse is actually a miniature replica of the famous one at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, and oddly enough they are the only two ever designed by American architect Stanford White. On the wall in the pro shop was a large plaque that displayed the past winners. Guess who won it in 1945? Yes, none other than Byron Nelson.
Now, back to the Hall of Fame. As I was stood with Nelson viewing the display depicting all his victories, I made the comment that his win at Palmetto wasn’t listed. The then 92-year-old said, “Yes, we did win.” He then went on to describe the hole that he and his partner had won it on in great detail, and then even told me which club his partner had used to set up the win. He then shared with me that the winning check was for $5000, which was big money in 1945, but said his partner signed the check and gave it all to him. I laughed and said, “Boy he must have been rich.”
“He did all right,” Nelson said. “His name was Eugene Grace, and he was the president of Bethlehem Steel.”
The year Nelson and Grace won that member-guest at Palmetto was that same record-setting 1945 season that Nelson won an unprecedented 18 out of 30 PGA Tour tournaments, which included the unbelievable run of 11 consecutive victories. Well known for his fluid swing and amazing accuracy, Lord Byron chalked up a total of 52 career titles, which included five majors — the Masters in 1937 and 1942, the U.S. Open in 1939, and the PGA Championship in 1940 and 1945.
I still believe that Byron Nelson could very well be the finest gentleman in golf that I have ever met in the 40-plus years that I have covered professional golf.