Golfer Byron Nelson's Shining Record Byron Nelson, a big winner in the lean early years of pro golf, has died at 94. Long after he retired, the gracious Texan remained one of the most popular figures in the sport. He won 18 tournaments in one year during World War II. Later, he raised at least $100 million for charity.
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Golfer Byron Nelson's Shining Record

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Golfer Byron Nelson's Shining Record

Golfer Byron Nelson's Shining Record

Golfer Byron Nelson's Shining Record

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Byron Nelson, a big winner in the lean early years of pro golf, has died at 94. Long after he retired, the gracious Texan remained one of the most popular figures in the sport. He won 18 tournaments in one year during World War II. Later, he raised at least $100 million for charity.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Commentator John Feinstein joins us now. Good morning, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: John, please put that 11-tournament winning streak into perspective. Some say it's the greatest year in the history of golf.

FEINSTEIN: Some people point out it was during World War II, the competition wasn't as great as it might have been, although Ben Hogan and Sam Snead both played that year. But the flipside of that is Nelson's stroke average that year was 68.3 strokes per round. No one has ever had a lower average in a year in the history of golf. And when you play against the golf course, no one knows whether there's a war going on or not.

MONTAGNE: And Byron Nelson was also one of the few athletes to retire while still very much on top. Why did he walk away when he did?

FEINSTEIN: His goal playing golf was to make enough money to buy a ranch. And in 1946, at the age of 34 he bought a 650-acre ranch in Texas, which is where he spent the rest of his life. He felt he didn't like traveling. He wanted to be with his family, he wanted to be a rancher, and he had done what he came to do in golf. He'd won five majors, as you mentioned. Probably would have won more if not for the fact that several were cancelled during World War II. And he was ready to go off into the sunset as a golfer at that point.

MONTAGNE: And as it turned out, his influence on the game went well past his playing years.

FEINSTEIN: And maybe most importantly he was a mentor to many players, but notably Tom Watson, the great player himself who won eight major titles with Nelson as his mentor.

MONTAGNE: And I gather this story of how his relationship with Watson began is quite a sweet one.

FEINSTEIN: Yeah. It was at Winged Foot in 1974, when Watson was 24 years old and he blew up in the last round of the Open while leading. He shot 79. Nelson was doing the TV commentary. He came into the locker room, found Watson, and said, young man, I think you have a great future in the game. I'd like to help you if I can. It was like the Lifesavers commercial before the Lifesavers commercial, Renee. And it was the start of a friendship that lasted until yesterday.

MONTAGNE: John, what's your best memory of Byron Nelson?

FEINSTEIN: And when I heard the news yesterday, I couldn't help but think next April in Augusta not only will his presence be felt by everyone but his absence will be felt by everyone.

MONTAGNE: John, thanks very much.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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