Between the ropes, Harold (Jug) McSpaden (right) was to Byron Nelson what Greg Norman is to Nick Faldo. But off the course, unlike many of today's superstars, McSpaden and Nelson were close friends. During World War II, they teamed up as the Gold Dust Twins, traveling the country performing exhibitions that raised $200,000 in war bonds. Thus Nelson, more than anyone else, was stunned to learn that the 87-year-old McSpaden and his wife, Betsy, were found dead of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning on April 22 at their home in Kansas City, Kans.
"He was my best friend," Nelson says. "He was a great kidder. In all the years we traveled together, we never had an argument. We always had a lot of fun."
The Gold Dust Twins were reunited last fall at the TPC at Four Seasons Resort in Irving, Texas, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Nelson's 1945 season, during which he won a record 11 straight tournaments. The two played a round together at Cottonwood Valley, one of the host courses for the Nelson Classic, and just as in the old days, Nelson's score (74) was a shade better than McSpaden's (75), an aggregate of 22 under their combined age of 171. "If you hadn't been born," McSpaden told Nelson that day, "I might have been known as a pretty good golfer."
Although McSpaden will be remembered for that 1945 season, when he finished second 13 times—seven times to Nelson—he also won 26 tournaments, including the All-American Open in 1942, which during the war was the equivalent of the U.S. Open. McSpaden, playing a practice round at the Texas Open with Nelson, Ben Hogan and Paul Runyon at Breckenridge Park in San Antonio in 1939, is also thought to be the first player to shoot 59.
"He was an excellent player, and maybe because I happened to be unusually lucky, it detracted something from his career," Nelson says.