Lord of the Pings

Categories: Sports
This is the Byron Nelson most of us never knew--the young, strapping champ on his way to becoming the legend with whom we were all familiar.

There's plenty of other news in the sports world than what Terrell Owens was or wasn't trying to do 36 hours ago, though you wouldn't know it from today's Dallas Morning News front page and the sports section. Dirk did what? Byron who? No doubt you're aware that legendary golfer and iconic Dallasite Byron Nelson died Tuesday at the age of 94 at his Roanoke ranch, but since it's beginning to feel like a footnote instead of a headlne, let's pretend for a moment there is n-o T.O.

Known as "Lord Byron" for his elegant swing and eloquent manner, Nelson had the greatest single season in the history of golf in 1945 and proceeded to brand his name on the biggest fund-raising tournament on the PGA Tour. The EDS Byron Nelson Classic has raised $94 million for area charities. As his last gift to the golf world, Nelson went into the woodshop of his ranch and recently produced 12 good-luck charms that were given to members of the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Nelson, who skipped World War II because he was a hemophiliac, had a year in 1945 that even Tiger Woods says will never be duplicated. Nelson won 18 times in 31 tournaments, including a record 11 in a row. He also finished second seven times, never finished out of the top 10, played 19 consecutive rounds under 70 and posted a stroke average of 68.33 that still stands today.

Amazingly, Byron was an even better person.

His memory, kindness and attention to detail were as legendary as his swing. I interviewed Nelson one-on-one on only once, for a Fort Worth Star-Telegram feature in 1998. Considering he'd experienced a life playing with hickory shafts against Gene Sarazen in the '40s and watching Woods belt 350-yard drives with titanium heads in the '00s, I was amazed and humbled that Byron recognized me when I bumped into him at last spring's tournament. I was "researching" a story on the Pavilion sideshow when Nelson pulled up in his golf cart. "Hi, Mr. Richie," Byron said as I froze in momentary shock-'n'-awe. "How'r things over at the Observer?"

R.I.P., Lord Byron. We now return you to our fascination with bad news about worse people. --Richie Whitt

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