Byron Nelson. Distinguished golfer and tournament namesake. But beyond that?
There comes a point in history when notable individuals names are known because we’re supposed to know them, even though most of us have forgotten their specific deeds. This, of course, extends to sports history as well.
So it’s unfortunate that, say, during the AT&T Byron Nelson, many younger golf fans may be unaware that Mr. Nelson holds one of the most impressive records in the game: The longest tournament win streak.
Think about how rare and difficult winning two tournaments in a row is on the PGA Tour. Sure, the level of competition is higher than it was when Nelson was teeing it up, but can you imagine winning twice in a row? Three times? Now consider this, beginning in March of 1945, Byron Nelson won a surreal 11 tournaments in a row.
“I was almost in a trance,” he told Golf Digest about the streak in 1970. Nelson won the Miami International Four-Ball, Charlotte Open, Greensboro Open, Durham Open, Atlanta Open, Montreal Open, Philadelphia Inquirer Invitational, Chicago Victory National Open, PGA Championship, Tam O’Shanter Open, and Canadian Open in succession.
While it must also be noted that Sam Snead and Ben Hogan were enlisted during World War II (Nelson had a medical condition that prohibited him from serving), Nelson’s streak was a service to his game and country in another way. As the war was drawing to a close, Nelson put golf front and center and gave a war-weary American public something more uplifting to focus on.
Such was Nelson’s popularity during this time that General Mills decided to pay him the handsome sum of $200 and a case of cereal to use his image on Wheaties boxes. He not only beat his opponents during this period, he embarrassed them. Nelson won the Montreal Open by 10 strokes. He captured the Chicago Victory National by an incredible 13 shots.
Nelson would go on to win a ludicrous 18 tournaments in 1945. Snead and Hogan had returned to competition by the end of the season, and he beat them too. In the 120 rounds he played in 1945, his scoring average was an otherworldly 68.33.
After winning seven tournaments in 1946, Nelson stepped away from the game, buying the cattle ranch he and wife Louise had always dreamed of, settling into his role as the fixture who sat beside the first tee at the tournament that bears his name until his death in 2006.