After six wins, Byron told Louise he wished he could blow up and get it over with. Instead he went to the golf course that day and shot a 66. People could scarcely believe what they were seeing. Tommy Armour, the famous Scottish pro who in the late '20s and early '30s won the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA, said, "Nelson plays golf shots like a virtuoso. There is no type of problem he can't handle. High shots, low shots, with the wind or across it, hooks or fades—he has absolute control of them all. He is the finest golfer I have ever seen."
Meanwhile, Nelson was aiming for the PGA Championship in July at the Moraine Country Club in Dayton, Ohio. His loss the year before to Hamilton had been an enormous disappointment and he was determined to redeem himself. But when he found himself two holes down to Mike Turnesa with only four holes to play in the second round, his hopes for redemption seemed about to go down the drain together with the longest winning streak—eight straight tournaments at that point—in the history of the game.
However, one of the characteristics of Nelson's play had always been his ability to produce wondrous finishing bursts at just such moments. He shot birdie, birdie, eagle and par to win the match one-up on the 36th green. Poor Turnesa, who had shot 68, 69—seven under par—only to lose, moaned, "How can you beat a guy like that? I never played better golf in my life, and when I had him 2-up going to the 15th, I felt confident I was going to win. Then what happened? Why in the next three holes he throws two birdies and an eagle at me!"
The final was an anticlimactic 4 and 3 win over Sam Byrd, the former baseball player. With it, Nelson had won his fifth and last major championship, and the Streak was still alive. The 10th win was the rich Ail-American Open at Tarn O'Shanter in Chicago, and No. 11 was the Canadian Open.
The end finally came the third week of August in Memphis, when Fred Haas Jr., an amateur, won the tournament and Nelson finished fourth. But there were no headlines and no pauses for standing ovations. In fact, hardly anybody noticed, because on Aug. 6 the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and on Aug. 14 the Japanese surrendered and World War II came to an end.
One year later Byron Nelson quit tournament golf for good. Why he retired when he did, at 34, and so quickly after his greatest successes, has been a frequent subject of locker-room conjecture. It has been suggested that he retreated rather than face Hogan's inevitable challenge. It has been said that he lost his nerve, that he had a bad stomach and that he had no stomach for competition.
The truth is that Nelson at 34 was old beyond his age and tired beyond endurance. In the fall of 1945, when he went elk hunting in a remote region of Idaho for two weeks, he had had, by Louise Nelson's calculations, exactly 11 days away from golf since the beginning of the war. He dragged himself through the 1946 season, but his heart was on a ranch outside Fort Worth.
At the PGA Championship in Portland, Ore., in August of 1946, he lost to Porky Oliver in the quarterfinals and then announced he was going home to stay. His face was haggard and his long frame was 18 pounds underweight. Though he managed an occasional smile for the gallery, when he returned to the locker room it was gone and his blue eyes were dull. A few weeks later he told a reporter what was going through his mind. "I'm just tired. It has been a long grind," he said. "There were days when I thought I would scream if I had to go to the course. It was week in and week out for years. I tried to give my best to golf. Now I want to realize a dream. I've got 500 pasture acres and 130 more under cultivation. I've got my dad and mother with me and...well, that's the story."
Louise Nelson put down her fork and glanced across the luncheon table at her husband. "I don't think all the truth has been told," she said, "and maybe now is as good a time as any." Byron, married to the same woman for 45 years, did not need to ask what she was about to say.