Just when it looked as if the cynics were right, that the PGA
Championship was one golf tournament in which Byron Nelson often
played no better than Ozzie Nelson, the lanky Texan rallied from
three holes down in his final match against Sam Byrd to win 4
and 3. It was, not incidentally, Nelson's ninth victory in a row
and surely his most satisfying, for it puts to rest the doubts
many people had about his ability to win another big one.
It might seem strange to disparage a man who had already won one
PGA and who has two Masters and a U.S. Open to go with it. But
his last win in a major was three years ago, and the fact is
that By, as many of his friends call him, had let three PGAs
slip through his fingers at the last moment.
The worst of these fumbles came against Vic Ghezzi four years
ago, just before the war began. Nelson had beaten Ben Hogan and
Gene Sarazen, and he was 3 up on Ghezzi on the back nine. But he
got careless, then blew a three-footer on the final hole that
would have given him the title.
On the second extra hole, with both balls nearly side by side no
more than two feet from the cup, Byron putted first, but as he
addressed the ball, his toe nudged Ghezzi's ball, which meant an
automatic loss of hole and, in this case, the match. However,
Ghezzi, good sport, would have none of it. He allowed Nelson to
proceed without penalty, but Byron was so rattled he missed, and
Ghezzi tapped in to win.
July 23, 1995
This year's event was held at the Moraine Country Club in
Dayton, Ohio, and marked the first time a golf course was roped
off so that spectators, and there were an estimated 30,000 of
them daily, could not walk down the fairways alongside the
Nelson was worried about the persistent ache in his back,
undoubtedly brought on by the pressure of his winning streak and
for which he has been receiving nightly osteopathic treatment.
He could have skipped the qualifying rounds, since as a former
champion he was automatically exempt. But there was a $250 prize
to the low qualifier, and Nelson said he wanted that money to
buy another acre or two for the ranch he hopes to own one day.
With two holes remaining, Nelson was two strokes behind Johnny
Revolta, but he eagled the 35th to tie and split the purse.
Nelson beat Sarazen in the first round, then barely made it
past the second. With four holes to play he was 2 down to Mike
Turnesa, and when Turnesa stuck his tee shot on the par-3 15th
about 10 feet from the flagstick, Nelson was in deep trouble.
"If I'm ever going to get out of this match, I've got to get my
ball closer," Nelson says he was thinking. And he did. Turnesa
missed his putt, and Nelson sank his. He then played the last
three holes in birdie, eagle, par to win the match one up. "I
was seven under par and still lost," said Turnesa. "How do you
beat this guy?"
Neither Denny Shute nor Claude Harmon gave Nelson much of a
match over the next two days, so he reached the final against
Byrd, who, you may know, is the former New York Yankee who
sportswriters called Babe Ruth's Legs because he often replaced
the Babe in late innings. He appeared in one World Series game,
the day after the famous incident in which Ruth pointed to
centerfield and proceeded to hit a home run.
Byrd was a big hitter on the golf course, and all day he
outdrove Nelson. The morning 18 was nip and tuck until Byrd
birdied the last four holes, chipping in from 10 yards off the
green at 18. And when Byrd sank a four-footer on the 21st hole,
Nelson was 2 down.
From this point on, however, Babe Ruth should have replaced Sam
Byrd. Whether it was nerves or fatigue is hard to say, but over
eight holes Byrd went from 2 up to 4 down, losing four holes
when he bogeyed and two more when Nelson made birdies. So much
for the PGA hex.
For winning, Nelson earned $5,000 in war bonds. He said he may
soon visit the Mayo Clinic about his aching back. But first he
will play in the Tam O'Shanter Open in Chicago two weeks from
now. He has already won the event three times. Anyone care to
bet against him?