Medical science almost found a way to derail Byron Nelson, at
least for a while. When he got to Chicago for the Victory
National Open, Nelson agreed to appear in a long-driving contest
before the start of the tournament. But during the exhibition he
wrenched his back and, for a time, it looked like the injury
might knock him out of action. But as his tee time approached he
decided he would try to play. When it was over he had won by
seven strokes over -- guess who? -- his buddy Harold (Jug)
McSpaden, who was tied for second with Ky Laffoon.
It was Lord Byron's eighth straight victory, but unlike many of
the others, this one was close until the last round. He was only
one shot ahead of McSpaden going into Sunday's final round at
Calumet Country Club, but when Jug opened with a birdie, Byron
countered with an eagle. Two holes later McSpaden took a triple
bogey to Nelson's par. Game, set and match.
Poor old Jug. It was the fifth time this year that the
36-year-old McSpaden had ended up as Nelson's bridesmaid. None
of this, however, has interfered with their friendship. Byron is
godfather to McSpaden's six-year-old son, Jay Byron. Byron's
wife, Louise, and McSpaden's spouse, Eva, are close, and the
four sometimes travel as a foursome. "I get a new Lincoln every
year from Eddie Lowry," Jug was saying the other day. "Eddie,
you may know, caddied for Francis Ouimet the year he won the
Open in Brookline. He was only 13 at the time. Well, now he has
a Ford agency in San Francisco, and he sets up almost all the
boys with new cars. When Louise goes home to Texas, Byron
usually rides with me."
But not always. McSpaden, you see, also likes to fly. The other
pros call him the Lindbergh of the Links because he often hops
from tournament to tournament in his own souped-up Piper. He
likes to fly extremely low to the ground so he can read road
signs to find out where he is.
"One time Freddie Corcoran wanted to fly with me," says
McSpaden. "I had my plane parked by the caddie house. I told
Freddie we'd do it the next day, but he wanted to go right then.
It was a bad time, winter, about four or five in the afternoon,
and the airlift was against us. Well, instead of taking off on
the sixth hole, which was a par-5 with no sand traps, I decided
like a damn fool to take off on the first, which was only 360
yards long. The fairway was slightly frozen and not as smooth as
it should have been, and I was going slightly uphill. We'd gone
about 300 yards and Freddie's yelling 'Pull up, pull up,' but
that would have been fatal. So I pushed it hard and gave it all
I had, and we finally took off right between the clubhouse and
some trees. That's the last time Freddie ever flew with me."
McSpaden is four years older than Nelson and has been playing
professionally since 1932. He says, only half kidding, that if
"Byron hadn't been born, I might have been a great player." He
won 11 tournaments in 1934 and '35, more than anyone else, and
won six more last year, tying him for most wins in the '44
season with -- guess who?
Unlike Nelson, McSpaden is an outgoing man and can usually be
found in the middle of clubhouse gatherings. Of his nickname,
Jug, he says, "I used to live in Rosedale, Kansas, and as a
little boy, even before I went to school, I used to go to this
bakery, which was about a block away. I'd help the baker. I'd
turn over the doughnuts when he was putting them in the kettle.
He's the one who started calling me Jug, and it just stuck."
McSpaden credits Walter Hagen with the advice that gave his
career a boost. "I was wilder than a Kansas chicken hawk when I
started in tournament golf," McSpaden says. "After Hagen saw me
loop a couple into the next county, he said, 'Young feller, stow
that driver away, take a brassie and shorten your swing.' I
followed his advice and after a while I was able to use my
McSpaden has won 25 tournaments during his career but only one
this year, the Miami 4-Ball, in March. His partner in that event
was Nelson, proving that Jug McSpaden is a man of great
intelligence. He knows that if you can beat 'em, join him.
Unfortunately there are no more 4-Balls scheduled until next
year, and the way Nelson is going, everyone else is going to
play for second until then.