Lord Byron was King of Swing

September 27th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Lord Byron was King of Swing


An era died with Byron Nelson yesterday, the one of Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, of post-World War II golf and the dawn of the modern swing.

Lord Byron, as he was known for his gentlemanly manner, died of natural causes at age 94 at home in Roanoke, Tex.
He leaves with his record of 11 straight wins in 1945 still intact, as unreachable as Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak. Nelson won 18 tournaments in all that season and a total of 52 in his career, a number that would have been higher had he not cut short his playing time midway through the 1946 season, as soon as he made enough money to buy the ranch where he lived the rest of his life.
Nelson was a two-time Masters and PGA Championship winner and won the U.S. Open once. He played in only two British Opens and fell short of the career grand slam.
Nelson recently learned that he was voted to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, awarded to very few athletes, including Jackie Robinson.
Arnold Palmer called Nelson one of the "greatest players who ever lived" in a statement released yesterday.
"I don't think that anyone will ever exceed the things that Byron did by winning 11 tournaments in a row in one year," Palmer said. "But I suppose that is not the most admirable thing that he did, although it was certainly tremendous. He was a fantastic person whom I admired from the time I was a boy."
Nelson was excused from military service in World War II as a hemophiliac, so his streak came against weaker fields. Still, it is extraordinary, and one that Tiger Woods has on his hit list.
Nelson worked as a TV commentator for ABC during the '60s and was a ceremonial starter for many years at Augusta. He stayed in touch with today's players through the Byron Nelson Classic, a tournament that always drew an imposing field and generated more charitable dollars than any other PGA Tour event.
Many do not realize that his swing, fluid and upright with great leg drive, was the foundation of theirs. It was considered so sound that the USGA replicated the swing for its ball-testing machine, which it named Iron Byron.
"Byron was the linkage between Bobby Jones and Harry Vardon and the modern game," said Martin Davis, one of Nelson's biographers. "He was the first great player to use steel shafts and he kept the club face square longer than any player who ever lived."
Nelson was born in 1912 and started playing as a caddie at Glen Gardner Country Club in Forth Worth along with Ben Hogan, whom he beat for the caddie championship that year, winning with a beat-up 5-iron. His ties to the New York area were many. He was an assistant pro at Ridgewood (N.J.) Country Club, where he would bet the caddies that he could hit the flag pole with a 3-iron in three shots and usually did it by the second ball.
Nelson's first tournament win came at Quaker Ridge in the 1936 Met Open, then considered one of the four biggest pro tournaments in the country. He couldn't eat in the clubhouse because he could afford to spend only a quarter a day, enough for a Coke and a hot dog. There is a picture in the Quaker Ridge clubhouse of Nelson sitting on the grass, doing just that.
"I only won $182,000 in my whole life," he once said in an interview. "In 1937, I got fifth-place money at the British Open - $187 - and it cost me $3,000 to play because I had to take a one-month leave of absence from my club job to go." Services are tentatively planned for Saturday.

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