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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.

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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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Courses

Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers to many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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Opinion & Analysis

Be Curious, Not Critical, of Tour Player Swings

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After a foul ball by a tour player, the talking heads on TV are often quick to analyze the “problem” with that swing. Fair enough, I suppose. Even the best players are human and our game has more failure than success. But I’d like to offer a different take on swings of the best players in the world.

First, let’s remember how good these guys and gals really are. If you met up with the lowest ranked player on any professional tour at a public course one day, I’ll bet that golfer would be the best golfer most of you have ever played with. You’d be telling your buddies in the 19th hole about him or her for a very long time. These players have reached a level of ball striking most people only dream about. That’s why I’m more curious than critical when it comes to a tour player’s swing. I’m not thinking about what he/she needs to do better; I’m thinking, “How do they do it so well?” In other words, I want to know how they put their successful move together. What part goes with the other parts? How did their pattern evolve? What are the compatible components of their swing?

Let’s use Jim Furyk as an example. Furyk has what we might call an “unconventional” move. It’s also a swing that has won nearly $70 million and shot 58 one day. But I’ll offer him as an example because his swing illustrates the point I’m making. From a double-overlapping grip, Furyk picks the golf club up to what might be the most vertical position one would ever see from a professional. Then in transition, he flattens the club and drops it well behind him. Now the club is so flat and inside, he has to open his body as quickly as he can to keep the club from getting “stuck.” Let’s call it an “up-and-under loop.”

Let’s take Matt Kuchar as a counter example. Kuchar’s signature hands-in, flat and very deep takeaway is pretty much the total opposite of Furyk. But he comes over that takeaway and gets the club back into a great position into impact. We’ll call that an “in-and-over” loop.

Both are two of the best and most consistent golfers in the world. Is one right and the other wrong? Of course not. They do have one thing in common, however, and it’s that they both balanced their golf swing equation.

What would happen if Kuchar did what Furyk does coming down? Well, he wouldn’t be on TV on the weekend. If he did, he’d be hitting drop kicks several inches behind. That doesn’t win The Players Championship. The point is that the Furyk downswing is incompatible with the Kuchar backswing, and vice versa, but I’m guessing they both know that.

How can this help you? My own personal belief and the basis of my teaching is this: your backswing is an option, but your downswing is a requirement. I had one student today dropping the arms and club well inside and another coming over the top, and they both felt better impact at the end of the lesson. I showed them how to balance their equation.

My job is solving swing puzzles, a new one very hour, and I’m glad it is. It would be mind-numbing boredom if I asked every golfer to do the same thing. It’s the teaching professional’s job to solve your puzzle, and I assure you that with the right guidance you can make your golf swing parts match. Are there universal truths, things that every golfer MUST do?  Yes, they are the following:

  1. Square the club face
  2. Come into the ball at a good angle
  3. Swing in the intended direction
  4. Hit the ball in the center of the face (method be damned!)

But here’s the funny part: Let Kuchar or Furyk get off base and watch every swing critic in the world blame some part of the quirkiness of their move that has led to their greatness. When players at their level get off their game, it’s generally due to poor timing or that they lost the sync/rhythm that connected their individual parts. The same holds true for all of us. We have to find the matching parts and the timing to connect them. You might not need new parts.

After all, weren’t those same parts doing the job when you shot your career low round?

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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