Height: 6 ft 1 in
Born: February 4, 1912
Died: September 26, 2006
Turned Pro: 1932
Seventy years after playing his last competitive match, John Bryon Nelson Jr. remains an American golf legend. Born in 1912, the same year as fellow Texan Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, Nelson found success early in professional golf and effectively retired to a Texas cattle ranch at the age of 34, although he continued to play the Masters and a few other tournaments in the years that followed.
Nelson was introduced to the game when he began caddying in Fort Worth as a 12-year old. There, Nelson befriended another teenager named Ben Hogan. It was the start of a friendship and a rivalry that would last for decades.
Nelson and other golfers of the era were challenged by the transition from hickory to steel shafted golf clubs. Nelson is generally credited with incorporating more lower-body action and he has been called the “father” of the modern golf swing.
Nelson turned pro in 1932 concentrating his efforts on being a club professional. He was a club pro in Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and finally in Toledo, Ohio at the famous Inverness Club.
In 1945, Nelson put together the greatest year in golf history – a record that in all likelihood will never be matched. Nelson played in 35 PGA events that year and won 18 of them, including a stretch of 11 consecutive victories. Incredibly, he finished second in 7 of the tournaments he failed to win. Golfers from Arnold Palmer to Tiger Woods have praised Nelson’s year as the best ever.
Nelson retired with five Major championships – a U.S. Open, two PGA Championships and two Masters titles. He finished runner-up six other times. His Major win total was certainly impacted by World War Two which caused the cancellation of fourteen Major Championships between 1940 and 1945.
Nelson worked as a golf commentator and hosted his own PGA tournament until his death at the age of 94 in 2006.