"Sometimes I get bored out there," Byron Nelson was saying,
referring to his golf game. Poor man. Nothing but drive,
approach, putt. Drive, approach, putt. No wonder O.B. Keeler,
the distinguished columnist for The Atlanta Journal, named him
the Mechanical Man. Well, ladies and gentlemen, perhaps it's
time to take a close look at the mechanics of Nelson's game to
see what makes him virtually impossible to beat. We have
testimony from the professionals whom he has deprived of prize
money over the past few months, plus some words from Lord Byron
himself. But first, the latest piece of evidence.
Nelson and the other pros went to Montreal for the start of the
summer tour after an eight-week break in the schedule. During
that time, Nelson says he relaxed from the pressure brought on
by winning the last five events of the winter tour. He played a
few exhibitions, visited relatives and did a little work on his
parents' farm in Denton, Texas.
It was the hope of many players that the layoff might cool
Nelson's competitive fire. Recent history, however, indicated
otherwise. Last year he won in Knoxville, Tenn., the last stop
on the winter tour, then won five of the next seven tournaments
after the break. Talk about whistling in the dark.
In Montreal, it was more of the same. Nelson played a practice
round at Islesmere, shot 75 and declared the course "long and
really tough." Cause for optimism among his fellow pros.
June 18, 1995
Then, on Thursday, he went out and birdied nine holes -- nine
holes -- shooting a course-record 63. "I could do no wrong," he
told a group of spectators as he left the 18th green. "It was my
perfect day." That was it. End of tournament. For the record,
Nelson tacked on scores of 68-69-68 to beat Jug McSpaden by 10
strokes and third-place finisher Joe Zarhardt by 15.
So why is Nelson playing so well? "Byron is the best two-wood
player to the green I've ever seen," says McSpaden. "There are
generally 16 par-5 holes in a tournament, and you can bet he'll
be 10 to 12 under for those holes."
Sam Byrd regards Nelson as an outstanding putter. "He's the
greatest," says Byrd. "They talk about it being his only
weakness. Ridiculous! He makes everything he has to."
Tommy Armour, the Scottish pro who in the late '20s and early
'30s won the British Open, the PGA and the U.S. Open, says,
"Nelson plays shots like a virtuoso. There's no problem he can't
handle. High shots, low shots, with the wind or across it, hooks
or fades, he has absolute control of them all."
Nelson agrees with McSpaden about his ability to hit a two-wood,
or brassie, and calls it "my eatin' club," but he also cites his
sand wedge. "I call that club my half-Nelson," he says, "because
I like to strangle my opponents with it." Indeed, many of his
birdies during the streak, especially in last Thursday's 63,
have been the result of wedges hit so close his caddie could
have kicked the ball in.
"I keep a little black book," he says, "and I record tournament
dates, scores, the money I've earned and comments on my game.
Reviewing it at the start of the year, I noticed the words
careless shot many times, so I made a sort of New Year's
resolution to eliminate them." Obviously he has done just that.
When asked what adjustments he makes when his game is off, he
replied, "I once asked the same question of Ty Cobb. Cobb said
that when he got into a batting slump he got out his pet bat and
worked out in what is called pepper practice -- you know,
someone tossing a ball to him and Cobb bunting it back, just to
get the feel.
"Well, that's sort of what I do. I go to the edge of a green and
start chipping the ball, and when it begins to curl up close to
the hole, I step back to 100 yards, then 125 and 150. Pretty
soon I have the old feel back."
"The old feel" has been with Nelson most of the year now. "I
feel confident," he admits. "I can do with a golf ball pretty
much whatever I want." For anyone playing in next week's
Philadelphia Inquirer Invitational, that sounds like bad news.