Byron Nelson’s amazing win streak kept alive during a grueling 1945 PGA Championship
Byron Nelson said that his 1945 season in golf was a blur.
“I called it a trance,” he said. “I had blinders on.”
For 150 days -- from March 8 to August 4 -- Nelson was on a tear, winning 11 consecutive events.
He was the “Mechanical Man.” Serving as a PGA head professional at Inverness Club, “the Toledo Typhoon.” Even the “Man O’ War of Golf,” after the greatest racehorse of the 20th century.
He also was a man with a dream of owning a ranch.
“Each drive, each iron, each chip, each putt was aimed at the goal of getting that ranch,” he wrote in his 1993 autobiography, How I Played the Game. “And each win meant another cow, another acre, another ten acres, another part of the down payment.”
Nelson was on an eight-event winning streak when he arrived at the PGA Championship at Moraine Country Club in Dayton, Ohio. His back was beginning to bother him so he underwent heat, massage and osteopathic treatments every night of the event.
Still enjoying an exemption for having won the 1940 PGA Championship, Nelson didn’t have to qualify in Dayton. But the cash prize for medalist in the 36-hole stroke play qualifier was tantalizing. He went on to share medalist honors with Johnny Revolta, collecting $125 prior to the match-play portion of the Championship.
The 1945 golf season coincided with the final year of World War II. Nelson didn’t serve in the military due to a blood disorder, yet he spent the war years giving hundreds of golf exhibitions nationwide to raise money for charitable causes. He often partnered with Harold “Jug” McSpaden, who also was exempt from military service.
Nelson won five consecutive 36-hole PGA matches, beginning with a 4 and 3 win over Gene Sarazen, followed by a hard-fought 1-up triumph over Mike Turnesa. It was his second close call during the streak.
Two holes down Turnesa at the 15th hole, he watched his opponent hit an approach 12 feet from the hole. Nelson hit his two feet inside Turnesa’s ball. Turnesa two-putted and Nelson birdied, trimming his deficit to one hole.
At the 16th, Turnesa two-putted for par from 20 feet and Nelson birdied from three feet to pull even.
At the par-five 17th, Turnesa reached the green in two. Nelson hit a driver and a 4-wood to 25 feet. Turnesa two-putted for a birdie, but Nelson holed his putt for an eagle and the win.
The night after Nelson’s 5 and 4 semifinal win over Claude Harmon, he told his wife, Louise, that the pressure of the year was starting to get to him. Louise revealed years later that her husband was disappointed nobody had beaten him.
The next day, Nelson defeated former New York Yankees reserve outfielder Sam Byrd, 4 and 3, for his second Wanamaker Trophy. Nelson was 37 under par for the 207 holes he played that week.
He ended the season with 18 victories and a scoring average of 68.33, with a stunning 67.68 in final rounds. Tiger Woods bettered Nelson’s Vardon Trophy-winning scoring average in 2000 with a 67.79 performance and matched it in 2007.