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My Shot: Byron Nelson

A voice of experience on handling the wind, tinkering with your swing, and why cows and chickens are different.

Byron Nelson

Byron Nelson, photographed July 13, 2002, TPC Four Seasons, Dallas.

May 2003

Age 91,
Roanoke,Texas


I stopped playing golf two years ago. I miss it very much. If I make it to heaven, I won't miss it anymore. There's no golf in heaven, but you don't mind, because you're so happy.

One reason I've lived so long is that I never dissipated. I never smoked, I never drank and I never chased women. The other reason is heredity. Good genes are half the battle.

I never dreamed about golf when I was an active player. The dreams started after I quit. There was a pattern to them: They started out good and ended bad. I'd be at a tournament and leading, and I couldn't find my shoes. Or I couldn't find the entrance to the clubhouse. Or they'd be calling me to the first tee and I couldn't find my way there. If the dream got as far as me actually teeing off, I'd need a certain club and it would be missing. I don't care who you ask, golf dreams are rarely good.

I never suffered a crushing defeat. If you play long enough, a terrible setback is bound to happen. It never did happen to me. The result is that people ask me about winning, not losing.

Experimenting with your swing is a lot of fun, and it can make you better. Just remember, it can also make you worse. It's OK to tinker, but don't stray too far from home.

People don't drive as safely now as they used to. All these freeways and boulevards have several lanes, with all the cars going in one direction. The drivers get complacent. Back in the 1930s and '40s, every road had two-way traffic, and most of the lanes were pretty narrow. There were no concrete barriers. If you didn't pay attention every second, you could hit another car head-on, or veer into a ditch. I'm still a safe driver at age 91. My eyesight and reflexes aren't quite as sharp, but I concentrate on what I'm doing.

PGA Tour golfers as a group are especially good drivers. Think of all the players, all the years, the millions of miles driven, and no terrible accidents or fatalities involving a tour player. ... I don't count Ben Hogan. That wreck wasn't his fault.

In these troubled times, there are many people who haven't been religious who are thinking about joining a church. That can be confusing, because there are so many to choose from. My advice is to choose one that is active in the community. The doctrine is important, but helping people is sure to please the Lord.

Swing the club as though you were driving 60 miles an hour on the freeway. Not too fast, but not deathly slow. Once in a while, if the risk isn't great, you can push your swing to 70, but never go faster than that. At my best I could go 80 on occasion, but that's too fast for the average golfer.

As movies go, you can't beat "The Sound of Music." When Julie Andrews sings, it just lifts me up.

I didn't dip my knees on the downswing quite the way people thought I did. High-speed films show it was just an illusion. After impact, I tried to keep the club moving as low to the ground as possible. To do that I definitely dipped my knees. But that happened after I hit the ball, not before.

You'll be surprised how little wind will affect the ball if it's well-struck. That's something I impressed on Tom Watson, and he won five British Opens.

Check the texture of the skin on your hands. If it's a little dry or coarse like mine, you don't need a glove. Think how much money that'll save you.

The Byron Nelson tournament has raised $70 million for charity. We raised more than $6 million in 2001 alone, 11 percent of all the money raised on the whole PGA Tour. I talk on and on about that, but I can't help it. It's the greatest accomplishment of my life.

I love chickens. At one point I had 17,000 laying hens. They're so friendly once they get to know you. They'll gather at your feet and talk to you in a way you can almost understand. Not everybody thinks chickens are special, but I put them right behind horses as my favorite animal.

The best part of getting old is the way I'm treated wherever I go. I'm given more love now than I ever had in my life. I don't mean to brag, but I can honestly say I'm treated better than anybody I've ever known.

You ask how I can slaughter those chickens if I love them so much. Well, I'm not in that part of the business. My chickens lay eggs for me, and eventually I change them over. I sell them to somebody, and at that point my chickens ... well, they just go.

Cows, on the other hand, are just cows. And I like beef.

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