In 1932 the first Texarkana Open was organized, offering $500 in prize money. On Nov. 20, Byron Nelson said goodby to his parents, got on a bus for the 200-mile ride to Texarkana, paid his $5 entry fee on the tee and became a pro.
"I didn't think of the tour as something glamorous," says Nelson. "I just wanted to play to beat somebody. My parents didn't know much about golf, but they gave me their blessings. They said, 'Be a good man and do right.' " Nelson finished third at Texarkana and won $75. A month later he was on his way to California for the start of the winter tour of 1932-33.
It was customary, and economically necessary, in those days for golf pros to work at a club and teach the game in the warm months. They hit the tournament road only when the clubs had closed down for the winter. The winter tour began in California in November or December, moved east across Texas to Florida and finally north, up the Atlantic Coast, into spring. Summer tournaments such as the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship were played in odd weeks taken from the club jobs.
Nelson's first winter tour was memorable chiefly for its brevity—exactly three tournaments. He had intended to play Pasadena, Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Monica, but after Long Beach he was out of money and had to hitch a ride home. Fortunately, the pro's job at the Texarkana Country Club—salary $60 a month—opened up and Nelson got it. He lived in a rented room in town and worked diligently on his game in his ample free time, there being even fewer golfers at Texarkana than there had been at Glen Garden. In July, at the Texarkana Church of Christ Sunday School, he met Louise Shofner, the pretty, dark-haired daughter of a grocery store owner, and the two decided to get married, says Nelson, "as soon as I could get a dime together."
Late in the fall of 1933 Nelson went west again, this time with $600 borrowed from his prospective father-in-law and a Model A roadster—royal blue and cream with wire wheels—that a Texarkana Ford dealer had let him buy on time. He returned with enough money to repay Louise's father and buy Louise an engagement ring before he was broke again.
Broke or not, they were married in June of 1934, and when the Model A next headed west, Louise was along. In the opening round of the San Francisco Match Play Championship that year, Nelson, the unknown Texas kid, upset Lawson Little, winner of the British and U.S. Amateurs, 5 and 4, and a San Francisco newspaper headline read HONEYMOONER DEFEATS LAWSON LITTLE.
"Louise was so embarrassed she wouldn't leave the hotel," Byron remembers.
"We'd been married seven months" Louise protests.
In 1935 Nelson met George Jacobus, who was president of the PGA and head pro at the Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. Jacobus invited Nelson to come to Ridgewood as his assistant, where he would be paid $400 a year plus whatever he could make giving lessons.
Nelson spent two seasons with Jacobus, playing few tournaments but working harder than ever on his game. Jacobus was a teacher of the old school, but he was interested in some of Nelson's unorthodox ideas and encouraged him at a crucial time.