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Today in Golf History: Byron Nelson starts his streak of 11 wins in a row

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It was 72 years ago today when Byron Nelson won the 1945 Miami International Four Ball Tournament. Between March 8 and August 4, he was untouchable. Nelson won a record of 11 events in a row and shot 50 consecutive rounds under par starting with his first swing in Miami.

Nelson’s record streak took place during WWII. Pros like Lloyd Mangrum, Tommy Bolt, Jack Fleck, Herman Keiser, Ted Kroll, Ed “Porky” Oliver all served in WWII. Mangrum and Fleck were both even involved in the heroic D-Day invasions. Nelson did not serve in the army, but he did play a big role along with other professionals in raising money in exhibition matches. In 1945, with the help of Nelson, PGA members raised more than $100,000 for the war efforts. In all, Nelson won 18 events during the 1945 season.

In this story, I examine the utter dominance displayed by Lord Byron during his record streak over the course of 5 months and 3 days.

Miami International Four-Ball (Team Event)

  • Where: Miami Springs Golf and Country Club
  • Margin: 1st Place – 8 & 6 (Four-Ball Format)
  • Prize: $2,000 (War Bonds)

Byron Nelson and Harold McSpaden beat Sammy Byrd and Denny Shute in the final match of the $7,500 International Four Ball Tournament. His partner in the Miami event, Harold “Jug” McSpaden, a 17-time winner on the PGA Tour, had a front row seat to the streak. Over the course of the 1945 season, McSpaden finished runner up in 13 events… mostly to Nelson.

1945 Charlotte Open

  • Where: Myers Park Club Course
  • Margin: 4 strokes (playoff)
  • Prize: $2,000 (War Bonds)

In the 1945 Charlotte Open, Nelson and Sam Snead tied at the end of 72 holes with a score of 272. The next day they had a playoff to determine the winner. The problem was that Nelson and Snead tied again the next day with a pair of 69s. Nelson finally won, besting Snead by four strokes in a second 18-hole playoff… a grim match played before an almost silent gallery of some 1,800 people. Already three strokes ahead, Nelson sank a 30-foot putt on the 18th hole to finish Snead off.

1945 Greater Greensboro Open

  • Where: Starmount Forest CC
  • Margin: 8 strokes
  • Prize: $1,333 (War Bonds)

Just five days after he beat Snead at Charlotte, Nelson was back at it again but just at Snead’s home course. Nelson was absolutely dominant. He was 8 strokes ahead of his closest competitor, Sam Byrd.

1945 Durham Open

  • Where: Hope Valley Country Club
  • Margin: Won by 5 strokes
  • Prize: $1,000 (War Bonds)

Byron Nelson shot a final-round of 65 while continuing his unbeaten streak at Durham. In geographical terms, he swept the Carolinas with wins at Charlotte, Greensboro and Durham.

1945 Atlanta “Iron Lung” Open

  • Where: Capital City Country Club
  • Margin: 9 strokes
  • Prize: $2,000 (War Bonds)

In Atlanta, Nelson only picked up his pace from previous weeks. He had 22 birdies during the event with rounds of 64-69-65-65. He set a new mark for the Tour’s 72-hole scoring record with 263, a number that would be bested by the end of the year. The King of Atlanta golf, Bobby Jones, said: “When I was at my best, I never came close to the golf Nelson shot in this tournament.”

1945 Montreal Open

  • Where: Toronto St. Andrews
  • Margin: 10 strokes
  • Prize: $2,000 (War Bonds)

In his first event north of the border, Nelson continued his winning ways at the $10,000 Montreal Open posting a score of 268 and winning by 10 strokes. In doing so, he recorded the lowest four-day score at a Canadian course in tournament play beating Lawson Little’s mark at the Toronto St. Andrews layout in 1933.

1945 Philadelphia Inquirer

  • Where: Llanerch Country Club
  • Margin: 2 strokes
  • Prize: $3,333 (War Bonds)

In the 1945 Philadelphia Inquirer, Nelson impressed himself. He shot a sizzling, final-round of 63 at the Llanerch Country Club, besting the club record by three strokes.”It was the hottest round of golf I’ve ever played,” he said. Nelson finished the tournament with a 269, two shots better than Jug McSpaden.

1945 Chicago Victory National Open

  • Where: Calumet Country Club
  • Margin: 7 strokes
  • Prize: $1,333 (War Bonds)

Many thought Nelson’s streak would end at the Chicago Victory National Open because of a back strain sustained in the long-driving contest one day prior. That didn’t stop him one bit, as he played through pain to post 13-under par for a total of 275. Once again Harold “Jug” McSpaden finished second. He tied with Ky Lafoon, seven strokes behind.

1945 PGA Championship (Match Play)

  • Where: Moraine Country Club
  • Margin: 1st Place – 4 & 3
  • Prize: $5,000 (War Bonds) and the Wanamaker Trophy

The 1945 PGA Championship was the ninth of Nelson’s record 11 consecutive wins in 1945. It was Nelson’s fifth and final major title and his second win at the PGA Championship (he also won in 1940). Due to WWII, it was the only major championship played in 1945. Over the course of the tournament, Nelson disposed of Denny Shute and Claude Harmon before facing Sammy Byrd in the finals. Byrd, a former New York Yankee, lost to Nelson 4 & 3 and the streak lived on.

Fact: Sammy Byrd is the only person to ever play in both the World Series and The Masters.

1945 All-American Open

  • Where: Tam O’Shanter Course
  • Margin: 11 strokes
  • Prize: $10,200 (War Bonds)

In the All-American Open, also known as the Tam O’Shanter Open, Nelson dominated with an 11-stroke victory over the nearest competitors, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan. At this point, Nelson had collected $45,200 in War Bonds… just as much as he won in 1944. This was Nelson’s fourth win of the event in its five-year history.

1945 Canadian Open

  • Where: Thornhill Golf & Country Club
  • Margin: 4 strokes
  • Prize: $2,000 (War Bonds)

In his second visit to Canada during his winning streak, Nelson won the Canadian Open by four strokes. At this point, the newspapers were calling him the “mechanical man” for his flawless golf, but Nelson was showing signs of wear. Over the stretch his highest 18-hole total happened in the Canadian Open with a pair of 72s.

Nelson displayed a valiant effort in getting to 12 wins in a row, but was cut short the next week finishing 4th in the Memphis Open.

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Josh is the Editor and Owner of GolfHistoryToday.com, an area of the web dedicated to golfing history involving players, courses, and events from 1800s Scotland to present. Frequent Weekend Caddy...USGA Volunteer.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Dan

    Mar 13, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    I don’t care who your playing against, 11 in a row is a great accomplishment. Oh and by the way McSpaden (17 wins on the PGA), Hogan and Snead weren’t bad competition. Even if Hogan and Snead hadn’t hit their best years yet.

  2. Jack Nash

    Mar 13, 2017 at 9:08 am

    For those who suggest Nelson was playing against weaker opponents, I suggest you consider the number of HoF’ers in these fields as compared to, let’s say any Modern Day golfer, eg. Woods and just add them up.

  3. chinchbugs

    Mar 12, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    Dem Pants Doe

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Podcasts

Gear Dive: USC head golf coach Chris Zambri on the challenges that will come with the new NCAA rules

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In this Special Edition of The Gear Dive, USC Men’s Head Golf Coach Chris Zambri discusses his thoughts on the new NCAA mandates, how to get recruited, and the pros and cons of recruiting can’t-miss superstars.

  • 9:55 — Zambri discusses thoughts on new rule
  • 17:35 — The rule he feels is the toughest navigate
  • 26:05 — Zambri discusses the disadvantages of recruiting a “can’t miss” PGA star
  • 32:50 — Advice to future recruits
  • 44:45 — The disadvantages of being tied to an OEM as a college golf team

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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A new NCAA transfer rule gets passed… and college coaches are NOT happy

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New rules just keep on coming from the NCAA; college coaches are not happy about this one.

In a summer of block buster coaching changes, the NCAA has done its best to stay atop the news cycle by making some significant changes, which will impact the recruitment process. In an article two months ago entitled “The effect the NCAA’s new recruiting rules will have on college golf,” I spoke to college coaches about a new rule, which will not allow unofficial or official visits until September 1 of the players Junior Year. To go along with this rule, the NCAA has also put in place a new recruiting calendar which will limit the sum of the days of off campus recruiting between a head and assistant coach to 45 days starting August 1, 2018.

The 45-day rule will have several potential impacts for both recruits and assistant coaches. For recruits, it is likely that after a couple (2-3) evaluations, coaches will make offers and ask for speed responses to ensure they are not missing out on other options. I also think you will see far less assistant coaches recruiting, which ultimately hurts their opportunities to learn the art of recruitment.

The new transfer rule

In the past, players were subject to asking their present institution for either permission to contact other schools regarding transfer, or a full release.

Now, starting October 15, players can simply inform their institution of their intensions to leave and then start contacting other schools to find an opportunity. This is a drastic shift in policy, so I decided to poll college coaches to get their reactions.

The poll was conducted anonymously via Survey Monkey. Participation was optional and included 6 questions:

  1. New NCAA Legislation will allow players to transfer without a release starting October 2018. Do you support this rule change?
  2. Do you believe that this rule will have APR implications?
  3. Who do you think will benefit most from this rule?
  4. What are the benefits of allowing students to transfer without a release? What are the potential harms?
  5. New NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?
  6. What implications do you see for this rule?

In all, 62 Division I golf coaches responded, or about 10 percent of all Division I coaches in Men’s and Women’s Golf. The results show that 81.25 percent of DI coaches said that they do NOT support the rule change for transfers.

Also, 90 percent of coaches polled believe that the rule will have APR implications. APR is Academic Progress Rate which holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

The APR is calculated as follows:

  • Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
  • A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
  • In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.

While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.

The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.

A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.

Clearly coaches are not happy about the move and feel that the rule unfairly benefits both the student athletes and major conference schools, who may have a swell of calls around middle of October as Student athletes play great fall golf and look to transfer. Although coaches are unhappy about the new rule, it is very difficult to predict what direct impact the rule will have on teams; coaches are extremely smart and understand recruiting and development within the frame work of college better than anyone can imagine. As a result, I think coaches will react in many ways which are impossible to predict.

The survey also asked, “new NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?” For this, coaches were more divided with 45 percent in favor of the rule, and 55 percent not.

Although coaches supported the legislation, many (41/62) suggested that it would potentially hurt international recruiting at tournaments like Doral and the Orange Bowl and they had, in the past, used December as a time to recruit.

As we move forward with these changes, here are some potential things that recruits, and their families should consider, including consequences of the rules:

  1. With a limit of 45 days and these transfer rules, it is likely that coaches will be doing significantly more investigation into a player’s personalities and family situation to make sure they know what they are getting.
  2. Coaches may also start skipping over better players in favor of kids they think will be a good fit and are likely to stay
  3. Rosters may get bigger, as coaches are trying to have larger numbers to potentially offset transfers

Unfortunately, we enter a new era of rules at the worst time; we have never had a more competent and deep group of college coaches, the clear majority of whom are tremendous stewards of the game. Hopefully this rule will have insignificant effect on the continued growth of college golf but only time will tell.

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Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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