The odds say that someday, somewhere, Byron Nelson will fail to win a golf tournament, but no one around the Tarn O'Shanter Country Club in Chicago last week was willing to put any faith in that possibility. It wasn't only that Nelson had won nine tournaments in a row but also that he had won the last three Tarn O'Shanter Opens, a parlay only a fool would bet against.
For those who enjoy spirited battles for second place, this was a beaut. Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen tied at 280, while three others were one stroke back. No need to ask about first. Lord Byron pocketed the richest purse on the tour, $13,600 in war bonds. Over the course of his streak he had won by eight, nine and 10 strokes. This time he won by 11.
Nelson, who set a money-winning record last year, is well on his way to breaking it this year, although, as he is quick to point out, figures can be misleading. The $13,600 he won in Chicago is in reality more like $10,000, since he and Louise cannot afford the luxury of waiting 10 years for the bonds to mature.
Life on the tour has never been easy for Louise, but when talking to her one hears no complaints. The Nelsons generally stay, along with other players and their wives, at a hotel near the tournament site that has set aside rooms at a rate. They spend evenings seeing a movie or playing bridge with Ky Lafoon and his wife, or perhaps with the Zimmerman brothers, Al and Emery, and every Sunday they attend church.
Louise doesn't follow her husband when he plays. "He doesn't like to have me there usually," she says. "Besides, I have hay fever." Louise says that on one of the occasions when she did follow along in his gallery, he looked at the sky and said, "Looks like it's going to rain," which was her hint to go back to the clubhouse. In 1940, when a friend told her that Byron had just thrown up in the locker room, she said, "Good, that means he'll play well."
In 1934 Louise and Byron were married in her parents' living room because they had no money for a church wedding. For their honeymoon they traveled by car 120 miles to Hot Springs, Ark., but they were so nervous, they developed upset stomachs and returned to Texas after one night.
Nelson's 1932 Ford Roadster, in which they traveled during their first year of marriage, had no heater, and when they traveled at night the floorboard got cold, so, Louise says, Byron would take along heated bricks wrapped in newspaper to keep her feet warm. The touring pros soon learned that Louise was a wonderful cook, and the Zimmerman brothers offered a deal: If Louise would do the cooking, they would pay for the groceries, an arrangement that pleased all parties.
Byron says there were times when Louise would be terribly homesick and cry a lot. And yet Louise Nelson is made of stern stuff, witness this story.
"I had played poorly in the 1935 U.S. Open," Byron says, "and my driving was terrible. I'd bought four drivers, which was much more than I could afford. As a matter of fact, we had so little money, we were living in the basement of a parsonage. Well, one evening after dinner Louise was doing her needlepoint, and I told her I needed to buy another driver. She didn't say anything for a while, but finally she put her needlepoint down.
" ' Byron, we've been married for over a year, and during that time I haven't bought a new dress or a new pair of shoes. But you've bought four new drivers, and you're not happy with any of them. One of two things: Either you don't know what kind of driver you want or you don't know how to drive.' "