Is there no stopping Byron Nelson, the lanky Texan also known as the Toledo umbrella man? On the Hope Valley Country Club course in Durham, N.C., Nelson bided his time for three rounds, giving players such as Toney Penna, Jim Gauntt and Sam Byrd the ridiculous notion that one of them might win. Then Nelson went to the whip. Tied for second place, one stroke back, after 54 holes, he shot a final-round, five-under-par 65, the only subpar round on Easter Sunday, shattering the course record by two strokes and winning the Durham Open by five.
That makes four wins in a row for Nelson and seven for the winter season, which is one more than Sam Snead has. Snead had an excellent view of Nelson's heroics in Durham—he played the final 36 holes with him, finishing tied for eighth. 12 strokes back. Nelson pocketed $1,333 for the win, in war bonds, of course, giving him $12,763 for the year.
Prize money was a major topic of debate all week. Recently, veteran pro Willie Goggin persuaded 30 of his peers to sign a petition asking for a revision in the distribution of tournament purses. Goggin, who made $3,495 last year, is suggesting a 30% reduction in the amounts for first, second and third, so that more money can be awarded further down the line.
Chairman Jimmy Hines of the PGA Tournament Committee says the issue will be talked over in May after the winter tour is over, though personally he's against the idea. Byrd was even more outspoken. "Those guys who are squawking could play golf as well as anyone else if they wanted to," he said. "They just want a free ride. If they'd quit this wine, women and song business, they could get in the big money themselves."
First they'll have to figure out how to beat Nelson. Followers of his recent exploits may be confused about whether he comes from Texas or Toledo, because accounts of his recent victories mention both locations—sometimes in the same story. Nelson is most definitely a Texan, born in 1912 in Long Branch, outside Waxahachie. He and his wife, Louise, owned a 54-acre farm with a few chickens and cows in Denton, but they have given that to his parents. What Byron really wants is his own ranch, even though, as he is quick to admit, he knows little about ranching at the moment. Every time he earns some prize money, he's likely to say, "That'll go toward a couple of more acres, or maybe another cow or two."
So then, what's all this " Toledo umbrella man" business? Until the start of the year Nelson was the club pro at the Inverness Country Club in Toledo, and he still represents Inverness on the tour. Thus in pro tour terminology he is from Toledo, just as Ben Hogan, another Texan, is from Hershey, Pa., because he has an affiliation with the Hershey Country Club. One evening some years ago the Nelsons had dinner with an Inverness club member named Cloyd Haas, co-owner of Haas-Jordan, a successful manufacturing company. At the time, golf umbrellas were flimsy and tended to leak a lot.
Nelson tells this story: "I told Mr. Haas his company had such good umbrellas, why couldn't he make a good golf umbrella? A few weeks later he and I met with the factory manager, and the result was a large, waterproof model, a bit heavy but better than anything we were using. I had one made for me and one for Jug McSpaden. When the boys on the tour saw them, they all wanted to know where they could get one."
Haas made Nelson a vice president of marketing. Now, at each tournament he plays in, Nelson goes to the local department stores, introduces himself and leaves his card. He reportedly gets $25 for each call he makes. And that's why he is called the Toledo umbrella man.
Nelson has been the talk of the winter season. His four consecutive victories set a PGA record. He'll go for number 5 in Atlanta this week. The strain of the winning streak is beginning to show—Nelson appears to have lost weight, although he insists he is-in perfect health—but even so, the way Byron is playing, only a fool would bet against him these days.