This week the PGA Tour heads to Texas. And although it may not seem like a special week, I must say otherwise, as the players and Tour itself pays homage to one of the all-time greats — Byron Nelson.
The year was 1945. World War II was still being fought. FDR, Churchill, Truman and MacArthur dominated the U.S. headlines. The PGA Tour was in its infancy. But before there were names like Palmer, Nicklaus and Player, Nelson helped solidify golf as a national sport.
One of the things I love about sports is the way certain numbers — records actually — become magical figures. In my mind, baseball will always have a few magical numbers. I still consider 61 and 755 magical. And I’ll always consider 56 (Joe DiMaggio’s hitting) as the one record that will never be touched.
In golf, Jack Nicklaus’ major championship total of 18 has always been our number. Once viewed as untouchable, then arguably destined to fall, 18 once again seems like it will remain our sport’s mythical number for the next generation of players.
But way back in 1945, Byron Nelson set a DiMaggio-like standard that I’m certain will never be equaled — 11.
That’s the number of tournaments Byron Nelson won ... IN A ROW!
Think about that for a minute. Eleven tournaments in a row. Here’s a brief list of current PGA Tour stars who haven’t won 11 tournaments in their career: Jason Day, Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, Luke Donald and Henrik Stenson, just to name a few.
And it wasn’t just that Nelson won 11 tournaments in a row, he dominated. Of those 11 victories, nine came in stroke-play events. Nelson won those tournaments by; 4, 8, 5, 9, 10, 2, 7, 11 and 4 shots.
In addition to the “streak,” Nelson won 7 other tournaments that season, to bring his overall win total to 18.
Eleven and eighteen. Two unfathomable numbers that I’m sure will never be equaled again.
Equally unfathomable, given today’s world golf figures, is the financial side of this story.
At the time, Byron Nelson had just left his position as head golf professional at The Inverness Club in Toledo to focus on competing full time. He stated years later that his goal with golf was to earn enough money to buy land in his home state of Texas to operate a ranch.
In 1945, he won 18 tournaments and made a grand total of $63,500, most of it in war bonds. The next year he semi-retired and moved with his wife Louisa to follow their dreams in Texas.
In today’s world, 18 Tour victories would be worth somewhere between $20-30 MILLION dollars in earnings alone. Not to mention the tens of millions that would undoubtedly come from endorsements.
This past week Adam Hadwin finished tied for 30th at The Players Championship. He made $65,000.
This weekend, the PGA Tour reconvened at The Nelson. For years, “Lord Byron” — as he came to be known — greeted each player in a little tent off the 18th green. Byron Nelson passed away in 2006 at the age of 94. Today, his tournament is one of only two Tour events bearing an individual’s name. The Arnold Palmer Championship is the other.
Many of the players in the field this week readily admit they’re there because of the Nelson name. I hope that tradition continues for years to come.
Jonah Karzmer is a former golf professional who writes a Sunday golf column for The Vindicator. In his spare time he sells commercial insurance and loves getting feedback on his weekly columns via email at Jonah@thekarzmerinsurance.com.