The $2,000 prize for first place was welcome, but the publicity worked wonders. Within a week, 26 exhibition matches had been booked. Every day except Mondays for a month that spring, at a fee of $300 a stop, Nelson would play an 18-hole match in the morning, attend a luncheon, stage a clinic, make a speech at a dinner, then get into his car and move on to the next town.
The occasional golf of Nelson's retirement years has been some of his best. Lowery recalls a time at the Crosby in the mid-'50s when Nelson shot a 70 in the first round and was close to the pro lead in the tournament. "We were playing the 8th at Cypress on the second day," says Lowery. "Byron's second shot was short of the green in a bunker. I'm on the green, putting for a birdie from six feet. Byron had his caddie pick up his ball, and I said. 'Byron, you're four strokes off the lead!' He said, 'I'm here for fun; I'm not playing for money.' I didn't understand it, but he lived by it. He was just playing for my sake and for Bing Crosby's."
There were also individual shots as memorable as any he hit in the '30s and '40s, and he savors them as any golfer would. "At Colonial in Fort Worth, the 5th fairway slopes into a ravine, a low area with trees overhanging." he says. "I was in a position where I had to hit the ball under the trees but skin over a bank, and the shot had to hook because a straight shot would go into the river. So I took a two-iron and it just missed the bank and landed eight feet from the pin. Sometimes you can get a great kick out of a shot that somebody watching might think wasn't anything special. It gives you a happy feeling when it works."
Tucked away in the closet at the ranch is a cardboard carton filled to overflowing with pictures taken when Byron and Louise were seeing the world for the first time. It is a time capsule in which are distilled all those years when the work was hard and the rewards were meager but when every sight was a new sight. Here are Byron and Jug in front of an eight-foot snowbank at Lake Tahoe. Louise and Eva McSpaden in front of the same snowbank, Eva wearing a fox fur jacket, Louise with a silly little hat tipped over her right eye. Byron standing next to a saguaro cactus four times as tall as he. Horseshoe Falls with a note penciled on the back: "Water is blue as can be and clear as a whistle." Byron and Louise standing ankle-deep in Lake Erie, he with his pants rolled up to his calves, she clutching the hem of her skirt ("It was our first anniversary and I was in the doghouse. I was supposed to take Louise to see Guy Lombardo and I didn't"). Nelson in a pony cart in Aiken, S.C., in a copper mine in Butte, Mont., in a cloud of locusts in Argentina, under the Oakland Bay Bridge, in front of the Miami Biltmore, aboard the Manhattan with the 1937 Ryder Cup team on its way to England.
"I look back now and realize how young I was when I quit," said Nelson recently, from the vantage point of his 68th year. "But still with no regrets. I did what I did. I didn't feel I had no more worlds to conquer. I would have liked to win the Open once more, for instance. But I had bought the ranch and I really wanted to leave. When I did. I felt free, a different type of freedom, and I loved it."
Nobody had any trouble keeping Byron down on the farm, but Louise hadn't yet seen Paree. So in 1955, when Byron was 43, the Nelsons went to Paris. They stayed at the Ritz, and while Louise toured, Byron won the French Open at La Boulie. He was the first American to win it since Walter Hagen in 1920. The Nelsons celebrated by going to the Folies-Bergère, and then when it was time to leave. Nelson applied his winner's purse, 10,000 francs, to his hotel bill. By the time he had settled up and had tipped all the people who needed tipping, he had 500 francs left, which is the way he wanted it. Then he and Louise went home to Texas.