A week or so ago, when the PGA officially released the news that the $65,819.81 which young Bob Toski collected in prize money in 1954 constituted a new one-year record haul for a pro, the announcement mentioned in passing that the former mark was the $63,335.66 which Byron Nelson rang up in 1945. Nineteen forty-five—a brief decade back and yet, when you think about it, it seems like ages ago. It is a good while back, the way the world spins today and packs so many events into the width of a year.
When you narrow down your nostalgia and just focus on golf as it was at that time, you begin and end with John Byron Nelson, a young man from Texarkana taking on for the first time the considerable corpulence he has lugged around ever since, a deeply pleasant and mild man whom hemophilia had kept out of the service, the first of our golfers whose technique was so grooved and compact that everyone referred to him as a machine but who, compared to subsequent colder golf machines, represents, say, the difference between "motoring" and "driving." This past year, in surpassing the mark for total winnings which Nelson set in '45, Bob Toski won four tournaments (including the Tam with its $50,000). This is a superb achievement, for the field today is much hungrier than the field Nelson faced. In 1944, when Nelson swept just about everything before him—he averaged 69.67 shots per round for his 85 rounds in competition—the pro pack was headed by Jug McSpaden, Sam Byrd, Toney Penna, and Ellsworth Vines with supplementation from time to time by Dutch Harrison, Bob Hamilton, Craig Wood, Mike Turnesa, and Jim Ferrier. In '45 the field was bolstered during a good part of the year—before he broke his arm and after it mended—by Sam Snead, who had been discharged from the Navy, and from the summer on it included nearly everyone who had been away, among them Ben Hogan. I bring this up because the string of victories Nelson rolled up en route to his record earnings in '45 looms so fantastic from the vantage of '55 that it is difficult to believe that he could have done what he did unless there had been no first-class opposition whatsoever. Indeed there was.
Probably the most eloquent way to review Nelson's fabulous year is to eschew a dramatic presentation and merely set down the tournament schedule event by event and let the bare facts and figures speak for themselves. Los Angeles Open—won by Snead, Nelson tied second, a stroke behind...Phoenix Open—won by Nelson with a total of 274,10 under par...Tucson Open—won by Ray Mangrum, Nelson (269) a stroke behind...San Antonio Open—won by Byrd, Nelson (269) a stroke behind...Corpus Christi Open—won by Nelson with 264,16 under par...New Orleans Open—won by Nelson (with a 65) in play-off with McSpaden...Gulfport Open—won by Snead in play-off with Nelson...Pensacola Open—won by Snead, Nelson (274) second...Jacksonville Open—won by Snead, Nelson (275) sixth...Miami Fourball—won by Nelson and McSpaden over Byrd and Shute...Charlotte Open—won by Nelson after play-off with Snead...Greensboro Open—won by Nelson with 271, an eight-stroke margin...Durham Open—won by Nelson, with a final round of 65...Atlanta Open—won by Nelson with 263, 13 under par...Canadian PGA Open—won by Nelson with 268, a 10-stroke margin...Philadelphia Inquirer Open—won by Nelson, 269, last round of 63...Chicago Victory Open—won by Nelson with 275, a seven-stroke margin...PGA Championship—won by Nelson. Match play. Nelson 37 under par for 204 holes...St. Paul Open—Nelson sits it out...Tam O'Shanter Open—won by Nelson, 269, 11-stroke margin over Hogan and Sarazen...Canadian Open—won by Nelson, 280, four-stroke margin...Memphis Open—Nelson finally stopped. Won by Haas. Nelson tied for fourth...Supreme Open (Knoxville)—won by Nelson (276), 10-stroke margin...Nashville Open—won by Hogan, Nelson runner-up for second...Dallas Open—won by Snead, Nelson third...Tulsa Open—won by Snead, Nelson fourth...Esmeralda Open (Spokane)—won by Nelson with 66-70-66-64—266...Portland Open—won by Hogan with 65-69-63-64-261...Tacoma Open—won by Jimmy Hines, Nelson ninth...Seattle Open—won by Nelson with 62-68-63-66—259...Richmond Open, North and South Open, Durham Open, Mobile Open, Miami Open—Nelson, over-golfed, sits them out...Glen Garden Open (Fort Worth)—Nelson returns, wins with 273.
There it is—the most incredible stretch of sustained golf any man has ever played. Eighteen victories in 30 starts. Eleven victories in a row. An average of 68.33 for 120 tournament rounds, or about 320 under par, a remarkable figure even considering the lenient condition of wartime courses. All in all, one of the four imperishable performances in modern golf, along with Jones's Grand Slam in 1930, Little's "double-double" in 1934 and '35, and Hogan's sweep in 1953 of the Masters, the U.S. Open, and the British.
January 10, 1955
As for the dough itself, had Nelson been playing at present-day prices—and alloting him $50,000 for his victory in the 1945 Tam tournament—the accounting room tells he would have picked up upward of $125,000.