Why in the world was Harold (Jug) McSpaden kneeling by the 18th
green, cap in hand, as his friend Byron Nelson finished his
opening round in the ``Iron Lung'' tournament in Atlanta last
week? The blustery winds had made the Capital City Country Club
course a nightmare for most of the field, with many scores well
into the 80s. Considering the conditions, McSpaden had been
delighted with a 69, which had given him a share of the lead with
Sam Snead. But now here was Nelson, coming off four straight
tournament wins, three- putting the final hole for a bogey, yet
even so shooting a -- ho-hum -- 64! Forget to play the 6th hole,
Byron? You sure you added your scorecard right? Whatever, it was
too much for McSpaden. He was surrendering.
The Iron Lung was the last of the winter tour's events, and
perhaps it is just as well. The pros now have an eight-week break
before the summer tour begins (this is the third straight year
that the Masters has been canceled because of the war), and they
can only hope that a) Nelson strikes oil down in Texas and gives
up the game; b) he develops an allergy to grass; or c) more
reasonably, he becomes something less of a golfing magician. There
was certainly no loss of magic after his 64 on Thursday. He
followed it with rounds of 69-65-65 to win by nine strokes -- his
fifth straight victory -- and pick up another $2,000 in war bonds.
Who was second? Does it really matter?
It looked for a while as if Atlanta's No. 1 citizen, Robert Tyre
Jones, would be in the starting field. After serving two years as
an intelligence officer with the Army Air Force, Jones is now back
in civvies. The amateur great, who retired from competitive golf
after winning the Grand Slam in 1930, shot a sparkling 65 in a
practice round, but as he was quick to emphasize, it was indeed
merely practice. He bowed out with his usual grace, saying that
his participation would make life unsafe for the gallery.
By the time the golfing action resumes in June the war may well be
over, and so life on the tour, as elsewhere, should become easier.
This winter the pros have traveled from one tournament to another
by day coach, auto, plane, bus, truck and even thumb. Pullman
reservations have been practically impossible to obtain. Gas is
still rationed. Flat tires are a major problem, as replacements
New golf balls should soon become more plentiful. The pros
practice with balls not fit for a 20 handicapper, and they hoard
their new ones like jewels. ``If we develop a slice that lasts for
a few holes, we may be forced out of business,'' Snead said last
week. ``We just can't lose them.''
As Nelson was leaving Atlanta he said that he was delighted about
the break in the tour. For one thing, both he and his wife,
Louise, have picked up colds. For another, the pressure that comes
with winning week after week is beginning to build. ``People keep
saying, `He's got four, can he make it five?' and, `Now he's got
five, can he make it six?' '' says Nelson. ``One way I'm dealing
with it is to avoid playing Wednesday practice rounds. That keeps
me away from the press and, to some extent, the fans. That sounds
foolish, I know, but many times I've played my best golf when I
haven't even seen the course.''
His win in Atlanta produced a bonus of sorts when Wheaties offered
to pay him $200 plus a case of cereal each month to put his
picture and golfing statistics on every box. Nelson says he likes
Wheaties just fine but doesn't think he can eat a case a month, so
he'll probably be doling it out to his buddies.
Nelson plans to play in some USO exhibitions before he and Louise
head home to Texas, where he will work a little on his parents'
farm in Denton and visit Louise's parents in Texarkana. Maybe
he'll hit a bucket of balls from time to time, he says, just to
keep his muscles limber.
Nothing personal, Byron, but your fellow pros hope you enjoy it so
much you decide to stay home in June.