Here it is August and Byron Nelson's winning streak, which began in March, continues. Just consider the earth-shaking events that have occurred since Nelson began his run: Franklin Roosevelt died and Harry Truman became president, Adolph Hitler committed suicide, Germany surrendered, and Japan appears ready to do likewise. And through it all Lord Byron, a nickname he says he hates, has kept on winning, as he did last week for the 11th straight time, at the Canadian Open.
In truth, there was nothing remarkable about the victory, except perhaps for one shot during the first round. After three holes Nelson was one over par, unusual for him. A creek runs across the 4th fairway, so most players lay up, but Nelson pulled out his driver and told the galery that he would try to carry the hazard. The ball landed on a bridge spanning the creek and bounded 60 yards beyond. "Best break of the round," Nelson said later.
The rest of the week Nelson needed no such luck. The Mechanical Man, as he is often called, was tied with Ed Furgol after three rounds, but a 68 in the final made him the winner by four strokes. Nelson earned $2,000 in war bonds, bringing his money-leading total for the year to $37,950.
The strain of the streak is taking its toll. Nelson says that he is very tired and 12 pounds below "his fighting weight." His back is still giving him trouble. Nevertheless, after playing in a pro-am in New Jersey this week, he will try to make it an even dozen in a row at the Memphis Open.
On Aug. 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, destroying the city and killing more than 100,000 people. Eight days later Japan surrendered. That same week Byron Nelson's streak came to an end when Fred Haas, an amateur, won the Memphis Open. Nelson finished fourth. "To tell the truth, I was greatly relieved," says Nelson, now 83 and living on his 480-acre ranch in Roanoke, Texas. "I was so tired."
Tired he may have been, but not so much that he didn't come right back the next week and win the Knoxville Invitational. In fact, he won three more tournaments in 1945, finishing with $63,335.66 in war bonds, convertible to $47,494 in cash, a money record that would last until 1954.
Nelson started fast in 1946, winning three of the first four tournaments. He finished second in the U.S. Open, deprived of victory when his caddie inadvertently kicked his ball in the fairway. Nelson won three more times that year and then, without ceremony, he quit the tour and appeared only in the Masters and a few other special events.
Earlier that year Byron and his wife, Louise, had found their ranch. Someone else had bid on it, but when the deal fell through, Nelson was there, putting down "earnest money." The price was $55,000 for 630 acres.
Nelson may have quit the tour but he has never quit golf. For years he was a color commentator for ABC. In 1968 the name of the Dallas Open was changed to the Byron Nelson Classic. In recent years he, Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen have performed the ceremonial tee off before the first round of the Masters. He said it makes him as nervous as any shot he hit in competition.
In April 1983 Louise suffered a stroke; she died two years later. Nelson was devastated, and his own health seemed to fail, but a few months later, when he was invited to Dayton to play an exhibition, he renewed an acquaintance he had with Peggy Simmons, a woman nearly 33 years his junior. Six months later they were married. Nelson has referred to himself as a "blessed man," and anyone visiting the ranch, meeting his young wife and observing the devotion of his many friends, not only in Texas but in all of golf, would surely agree.