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Grace, style and morality

Nelson will be known as 'legend who will never fade'

Posted: Tuesday September 26, 2006 7:19PM; Updated: Wednesday September 27, 2006 2:58PM
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While his last full-time season was in 1946, Byron Nelson had remained in the golfing spotlight almost until the end.
While his last full-time season was in 1946, Byron Nelson had remained in the golfing spotlight almost until the end.
Darren Carroll/SI
Where Nelson ranks in professional golf
Career wins 6th (52)
Consecutive wins 1st (11, 1945)
Consecutive events making cut 2nd (113)
Most wins in a calendar year 1st (18, 1945)
Most majors won (pro) T-16th (5)

By Art Stricklin, Sports Illustrated

ROANOKE, Texas -- Byron Nelson, one of golf's greatest players, but more importantly its greatest gentleman, died Tuesday morning at his beloved ranch outside Dallas.

One of the sport's last 20th century legends was 94.

According to those close to Nelson, his wife, Peggy, left him at the ranch Tuesday morning to go to a regularly scheduled Bible study at their nearby church. He told her he was going to work in his woodshop, a near daily activity for golf's last living legend. When she returned, she found him collapsed on a back porch bench. A heart attack was suspected but no official cause of death was released by medical officials.

Nelson had been hospilitized and released earlier in the month with pneumonia.

Funeral services have not been set, but are expected to draw the leading figures from the world of golf to his Dallas-area burial.

While Nelson will always be remembered for his seemingly untouchable records, 11 straight PGA Tour wins in 1945 and 18 total in that magical season, he preferred to be remembered as a man of grace, style and morality.

"I think the thing people will always talk about me is my degree of consistency on the golf course, winning money in 113 [straight] tournaments, but I want to be remembered as a good man and a Christian man. That's all that really matters," Nelson said in 2001 interview with Sports Illustrated.

Others in the golf world were quick to recognize Nelson's place in the sport.

"He was a legend who transcended generations and was loved and respected by everyone who knew him," said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem in a statement upon learning of Nelson's death. "Our players, young and old, looked to Byron as the consummate role model of our sport. His legacy spans across his historic performances, the gentle and dignified way he carried himself and his tremendous contributions to golf and society."

"Byron Nelson set the standard for all of us many years ago," Arnold Palmer said. "What he did in the game of competitive golf is amazing, plus he is also an outstanding person and has done tremendous work for the game of golf."

"Byron's 11 straight wins is the 40-foot pole vault or 50-foot long jump of golf," added Tom Watson, a close friend of Nelson who was taught by the golf legend in the late 1970s.

Ken Venturi, who played on the PGA Tour with Nelson for years and remained one of his closest friends, offered this final summation, which would have most pleased his mentor.

"Byron is golf's greatest gentleman," he said.

Dallas-area player Justin Leonard, who had known Nelson since he was a teenager, learned of his death in an afternoon phone call to his house.