The odds say that someday, somewhere, Byron Nelson will fail to
win a golf tournament, but no one around the Tam O'Shanter
Country Club in Chicago last week was willing to put any faith
in that possibility. It wasn't only that Nelson had won nine
tournaments in a row but also that he had won the last three
Tam O'Shanter Opens, a parlay only a fool would bet against.
For those who enjoy spirited battles for second place, this was
a beaut. Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen tied at 280, while three
others were one stroke back. No need to ask about first. Lord
Byron pocketed the richest purse on the tour, $13,600 in war
bonds. Over the course of his streak he had won by eight, nine
and 10 strokes. This time he won by 11.
Nelson, who set a money-winning record last year, is well on his
way to breaking it this year, although, as he is quick to point
out, figures can be misleading. The $13,600 he won in Chicago is
in reality more like $10,000, since he and Louise cannot afford
the luxury of waiting 10 years for the bonds to mature.
Life on the tour has never been easy for Louise, but when
talking to her one hears no complaints. The Nelsons generally
stay, along with other players and their wives, at a hotel near
the tournament site that has set aside rooms at a rate. They
spend evenings seeing a movie or playing bridge with Ky Lafoon
and his wife, or perhaps with the Zimmerman brothers, Al and
Emery, and every Sunday they attend church.
Louise doesn't follow her husband when he plays. ''He doesn't
like to have me there usually,'' she says. ''Besides, I have hay
fever.'' Louise says that on one of the occasions when she did
follow along in his gallery, he looked at the sky and said,
''Looks like it's going to rain,'' which was her hint to go back
to the clubhouse. In 1940, when a friend told her that Byron had
just thrown up in the locker room, she said, ''Good, that means
he'll play well.''
In 1934 Louise and Byron were married in her parents' living
room because they had no money for a church wedding. For their
honeymoon they traveled by car 120 miles to Hot Springs, Ark.,
but they were so nervous, they developed upset stomachs and
returned to Texas after one night.
Nelson's 1932 Ford Roadster, in which they traveled during their
first year of marriage, had no heater, and when they traveled at
night the floorboard got cold, so, Louise says, Byron would take
along heated bricks wrapped in newspaper to keep her feet warm.
The touring pros soon learned that Louise was a wonderful cook,
and the Zimmerman brothers offered a deal: If Louise would do
the cooking, they would pay for the groceries, an arrangement
that pleased all parties.
Byron says there were times when Louise would be terribly
homesick and cry a lot. And yet Louise Nelson is made of stern
stuff, witness this story.
''I had played poorly in the 1935 U.S. Open,'' Byron says, ''and
my driving was terrible. I'd bought four drivers, which was much
more than I could afford. As a matter of fact, we had so little
money, we were living in the basement of a parsonage. Well, one
evening after dinner Louise was doing her needlepoint, and I
told her I needed to buy another driver. She didn't say anything
for a while, but finally she put her needlepoint down.
"'Byron, we've been married for over a year, and during that
time I haven't bought a new dress or a new pair of shoes. But
you've bought four new drivers, and you're not happy with any of
them. One of two things: Either you don't know what kind of
driver you want or you don't know how to drive.'''
But that was a decade ago. Today Nelson can afford all the
drivers he wants, although he gets his clubs free from
MacGregor, the company he represents. Of the two of them, Byron
is more eager to leave the tour and settle down on a ranch in
Texas, while Louise encourages him to play a bit longer. ''I'm
willing to buy a ranch,'' she has told her husband, ''but I
don't want to dip into savings to do it.''
Which is why Nelson will keep at it. He will tee off at the
Canadian Open in Toronto in a few days, trying for number 11 and
more money for the ranch.