The World Needs More Byron Nelsons

Written by Charlie Epps on 01 May 2009.

I was fortunate enough to play with Mr. Byron Nelson at Inverness in Ohio some years back. So many things amazed me about him, the most being that it was so hard to believe he was as good as he was. I don't mean that because of how he played; it was more about how he acted. He was always such an unassuming and gentle person. His personality was such that you didn't think he was much of a competitor.

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course.

Mr. Nelson didn't have the flair of Gary Player, nor did he have the mystique of Ben Hogan. All he did was win—52 times in his brief, 11-year PGA Tour career—and he did it with a swing that most people thought wasn't very pretty.

But he was smart enough to not change something that worked.

Mr. Nelson always said he only played pro golf to make enough money to buy a ranch. He did just that and retired at age 34. Not too many of today's pros would have a life plan like that, but Mr. Nelson wasn't the only one. Greg Norman played golf to become a businessman. Jack Nicklaus will tell you he didn't win much money on tour; he made all his money off the course with his architecture firm.

Another thing that always fascinated me about Mr. Nelson was that his swing speed was always the same. He really knew what he was doing and never strayed from it. Mr. Hogan changed his swing to control his ball flight. Mr. Nelson, at least to me, controlled his ball flight with proper tempo.

Today, so many players are video-driven and worried about being on-plane. Fred Couples is an example of one of the few old school guys who hasn't changed his swing much over the years. He has improved it with the help of Dick Harmon and now Paul Marchand, but he hasn't done anything drastic with it. Why would he?

Mr. Nelson also was one of the best chippers and pitchers I ever saw. He nipped the ball off the fairway and never took a divot. That goes back to his days playing in the dirt of Fort Worth. If you want to learn to chip and pitch with supreme accuracy, go find some dirt and practice playing from very tight lies. That's how Mr. Nelson and Mr. Hogan learned.

I guess my favorite story about Mr. Nelson was that he could never play the same course twice in the same day...because he'd end up hitting out of his divots in the second round! He was such a straight driver of the golf ball. Simply amazing.

And he was the ultimate gentleman. You could have called him the "Quiet Assassin." He never looked like a guy who could beat you, but he sure got the job done. And he killed you with kindness. It's probably an impossible request, but I'd like to see more guys like that on tour today.