Byron Nelson: Gentleman Golfer’s Lasting Legacy

When you think of "gentleman golfers" in the modern era, Byron Nelson might be the first player to come to mind.  A 2006 Houston Chronicle article written immediately after his death may have summed up Nelson best:

"Before he would tee off, he would always ask what the course record was and who owned it," (Ken)V enturi said Tuesday afternoon. "And he would say, 'Kenny, as long as you're playing with me, if the course record is owned by the home pro, you never break it. He lives here. We're only visiting.' "

Think about that for a second and then contrast it to not only today’s typical athlete, but today’s golfer. How many golfers would throw away a chance at the record books because he or she is wary of breaking a record held by a local golfer? It’s hard to imagine anyone doing that.

Nelson continued his famous ‘good guy’ attitude well after he retired. He became a partner for the HP Byron Nelson Championship, which was the first PGA Tour event named for a pro golfer. The tournament raises money for charity each year and according to the tournament’s website , the event has raised more than $116 million dollars. Funds raised go to the Salesmanship Club Youth and Family Centers, which provide therapy and education to at-risk and troubled children in Texas.

He also was posthumously given several awards including the famous Congressional Gold Medal by President George Bush for his achievements and contributions to the United States.

But Byron Nelson was more than just a nice guy – he was one of the best golfers of all-time. In 1974, Nelson became a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and in 1945, he had what can easily be considered the best season by any golfer. In that year he won an amazing 18 tournaments, which is still the record for most wins in a season. 18 wins over a career means you’ve had a pretty good one. 18 wins in a single season is out of this world. And it wasn’t just Nelson’s 18 wins that year that made him great. He also managed to win 11 in a row – also an all-time record. In addition, Nelson proved he could win the big one as attested to by his five major victories and his swing is widely considered by many to be the first modern swing in the sport.

Golf collectors look for Nelson prints, autographs and other items on eBay, remembering a simpler, more genteel era in the game.

Even in defeat, Nelson was still recognized as one of the game’s all-time greats. He finished in the top ten in golf tournaments an astounding 65 times in a row spanning over several seasons from 1942 to 1946.  Byron Nelson will go down in history as a great golfer, but perhaps even a better man.