Little did Byron Nelson know that 70 years ago this week he was beginning golf's most famous winning streak
Last Monday was the 53rd anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain's incredible 100-point NBA game, a sports moment celebrated for its still-astounding magnitude. In a case of symmetry, golf has a big scorer of its own from even further back than Wilt's century game whose winning streak is still hard to fathom, and this week is key for him, too. It was 70 years ago that Byron Nelson's 11-tournament winning streak on the PGA Tour began at the Miami Four-Ball two-man team event, March 8-11, 1945, when Nelson won with his "Gold Dust Twins" partner Harold (Jug) McSpaden.
Nelson's victory march ran all the way to the Canadian Open that August and included the U.S. Open substitute event (the Chicago Victory National Open) and the PGA Championship, his fifth and final major victory. For the entire season, Nelson would win 18 times, average 68.33 strokes and finish 320 strokes under par in 120 stroke-play rounds. During the streak, his average winning margin in seven stroke-play events was seven shots.
In PGA Tour history, Nelson has two of the top nine winning streaks, with his 11 straight being No. 1. The next longest are from Tiger Woods 7, Ben Hogan and Woods 6 each, Hogan and Woods 5, and Nelson, Hogan and Jack Burke Jr., 4. For the 1944 to 1946 seasons, Nelson -- who was exempt from military service due to a blood-clotting disorder -- had victory totals of eight, 18 and six. Following the '46 season, having built up a financial nest egg, Nelson retired from regular play at age 34 and settled on his 750-acre Texas ranch with his wife, Louise.
In addition to setting records more than 50 years ago that still stand, Wilt the Stilt and Lord Byron have another connection, although it has nothing to do with a shared ability to slam dunk or make putts. Rather it involves location: Chamberlain scored his 100 points for Philadelphia versus the New York Knicks in Hershey, Pa., the same town where Nelson won the 1940 PGA in a 1-up, 36-hole final victory against Sam Snead at Hershey Country Club.