“DID YOU KNOW”
At one time, big name golf professionals like Byron Nelson played in local tournaments!
Byron Nelson won the 1937 Masters Tournament on the first Sunday of April and then reported for work at the Reading Country Club as the new head professional.
On Monday, two weeks after winning the Masters, Nelson played in what was termed a Philadelphia PGA sweepstakes (one day). The professionals played for their entry fees. Nelson shot two 73s, finishing second to Bruce Coltart by one stroke.
1937 was a Ryder Cup year, with Great Britain being the host. The final four spots on the US team were determined from the two qualifying rounds at the PGA Championship and the US Open’s four rounds. As the medalist at the PGA, and a tie for 20th at the US Open in Detroit, Nelson earned one of those last spots.
Three days later on Tuesday, Nelson was in New York at a dinner for the Ryder Cup team. That next morning, June 16, the Ryder Cup team set sail from New York for the one week trip to England. The US team defeated the British on their soil for the first time. Two weeks later Nelson finished fifth in the British Open.
On Thursday July 29th Nelson returned to the states, stepping off a ship in New York Harbor. On Sunday he was in Jamestown, NY playing an exhibition with Henry Picard. That night he drove home, nearly 300 miles, to host the Central Pennsylvania Open on Monday.
With little sleep, Nelson put together rounds of 69 and 71 at RCC to tie Bruce Coltart for the title with 140s. An 18-hole playoff was held on Saturday, which Nelson won, picking up a check for $150. On Sunday Nelson and Picard played an exhibition at Lehigh CC.
Nelson hosted the Central Pennsylvania Open again in August 1938. He led after the morning round with a course record 66, but in the afternoon he finished with four straight bogies for a 75. Delaware’s Ed “Porky” Oliver, who was around the 36 holes in 140 strokes, edged him out for the title by one stroke. When Oliver could not get any of his three attempts in the fairway, Nelson won the driving contest with a poke of 273 yards, 6 inches. That evening Nelson and Oliver left for Cleveland to play in the $10,000 Cleveland Open, the richest tournament of the year.
In 1939 Nelson won the US Open in June and the Western Open in July. One week after winning the Western he was hosting the Central Pennsylvania Open, which he won for a second time. His 137 total won by three strokes. First prize had dwindled from $150 to $100.
The 1939 Philadelphia PGA Championship was held at Llanerch CC in September, and Nelson was there playing in the one-day 36-hole qualifying. He won the medal by four strokes with a 137 and picked up $100. Booked to play an exhibition near Boston that weekend, he couldn’t stay on for the match play, which determined the Section champion.
In early October 1939 Nelson, who had won the US Open earlier in the year, played in the Philadelphia PGA’s Lady-Pro Championship. This was no one-day social event. The format was selective drive/alternate shots. The teams qualified on Tuesday morning and then played the first round match that afternoon. For the survivors, there were two more rounds of matches on Wednesday, with the final on Sunday. The Nelson team qualified with a 79 and met the medalists, Joe Kirkwood, Sr. and his partner, in the first round. All square at the end of 18, the two teams returned to the first tee for sudden death. With little daylight remaining the golfers couldn’t see the green on the 245-yard par-3-hole. Kirkwood’s drive was on the green and Nelson’s was in the right rough. The two ladies were well short of the green. The Kirkwood team won with a 3 and went to the final before losing to the three-time Ryder Cupper Ed Dudley and his partner. Two-time PGA Champion Leo Diegel and his partner won the second flight.
Later in October Nelson bade farewell to the Philadelphia PGA by playing in the Pro-Green Chairman tournament. He had resigned from RCC to be the next professional at the Inverness Club in Ohio. Nelson and his chairman were paired with Henry Picard, who had defeated Nelson in the final of the PGA Championship that July.