The 1965 Masters Leaderboard was loaded with stars. Jack Nicklaus finished first … Arnold Palmer and Gary Player tied for second. As you go down the board you see Gene Littler, Tommy Bolt, George Knudson, Tommy Aaron, Doug Sanders, Ben Hogan, Tony Lema, Billy Casper … I have to stop.
But the name that jumps out to me is that of a 53 year-old who finished tied for 15th place … Byron Nelson. He’d quit the Tour almost 20 years earlier. So, a part-time recreational player in his 50s shows up and finishes near the top on one of the most illustrious leaderboards in history, at the biggest golf tournament in the world?
How does that make sense? About as much sense as when he won 11 tournaments in a row in 1945.
Here’s what else he did on the Tour in 1945: won 18 out of 30 tournaments … and won the Vardon Trophy with a scoring average of 68.33.
Because 1945 was the last year of WWII, people have tried to minimize or dismiss his unbelievable year. However, Hogan won 5 times in 1945 … Snead won 6 times. Nelson wasn’t beating up on chumps – his scoring average proves that.
“Lord Byron” was noted for his extreme accuracy and ability to hit it dead straight. In the 1939 US Open – which he won – he hit the flagstick 6 times. Think about that. How many times have you hit the flagstick?
Because he was so straight – they named a testing machine after him – “Iron Byron”. His straight shot was a result of curing his hook by not rotating his hands … and changing to steel shafts. In those pre-war years, golfers had to learn how to use the whippy wooden shaft. Thus, they made a flat, round, swing with a lot of open-to-close hand action. Obviously it was difficult to time and control. So with the invention of steel shafts, Byron developed a more upright swing coupled with strong leg action through impact to keep the club face from turning over. That’s why he’s been termed the “father of the modern swing”.
Both Nelson and Hogan developed swings to cure their hook. And they probably hit the golf ball as well as anyone who ever played the game. But, I would like to see golf instruction teach people to hook the ball like those guys did … then, find ways to control or cure the hook. Learning to hook the ball needs to be learned before copying Nelson’s or Hogan’s swing.
In our Men’s locker-room, we have framed pictures of 3 guys all born in 1912 … Ben Hogan Byron Nelson, Sam Snead. How would you have liked to have played in their foursome in 1947 when they were 35 years-old?
GM/Head PGA Professional