IRVING, Texas (BP)–Golf’s greatest players turned out to play in the EDS Byron Nelson Championship in mid-May in honor of the tournament’s namesake, 92-year-old Byron Nelson.
But more important than Nelson’s many achievements in the sport, including his 11 straight victories in 1945, is his legendary faith and the way he expresses it to anyone who will listen.
“If you ask him, he’d probably say his faith and his life after golf is even more important than all his golf records,” said Duffy Waldorf, a PGA golfer on hand for the tourney in Irving, Texas.
This year, like every Byron Nelson tournament for the last seven years, the golfing legend hosted the PGA Tour Bible study at the headquarters hotel and gave his own testimony of what faith has meant in his life, which spanned nearly every decade of the 20th century.
“I’ve been a Christian almost my entire life and my faith has meant everything to me,” Nelson said. “My faith and my wife and this tournament have kept me alive for the last 20 years.
“My faith helped me in the hardest time, when my [first] wife died with a stroke.”
Nelson said his faith and his clean lifestyle without smoking or alcohol or tobacco has helped him remain active, alert and immersed in tournament details.
“I remember the first time I saw him at the tour Bible study six or seven years ago, how awesome it was to see somebody who was a legend living out his faith like that,” said PGA Tour veteran Bob Estes. “You know it’s tournament week and there are a lot of things he could be doing, and he was there with us.”
This year, Waldorf spoke to the youth group at Nelson’s church near his home in Roanoke, Texas, between Dallas and Fort Worth.
“We’re all called to be examples in our faith, and Byron is one of the biggest examples there is. I just told the kids we need to all be examples in our life and Byron is one of the best examples to follow,” Waldorf said.
“It’s good to see somebody who is as good in person as he is all the time [in public],” Estes added.
Nelson said while the PGA Tour in his era involved less money but more camaraderie among the players, he was determined to maintain his Christian faith and his moral beliefs in everything he did.
One year a large tobacco company asked Nelson to represent its product, a common occurrence among players in those days. He briefly took their money, but within days began to think about what it would do for his image and not only returned all the money — a very large sum in the 1940s — but asked the company to withdraw all the photos they had taken of him.
“I didn’t want one person to think I was a smoker or stood for something I didn’t. My faith is important to me,” he said.
Nelson regularly attends both Sunday services as well as the Wednesday night prayer times at his church, and he helps out with special projects. His schedule at age 92 would tire men half his age.
“It’s great to stay involved and stay active,” Nelson said. “It’s great seeing these players at the Bible study and showing their faith. That’s what it’s all about.”
“It’s great he always comes to our study, but that just shows he’s a neat man. I hope he’s able to come to many more,” Paul Stankowksi, a fellow golfer, said.
Art Stricklin is director of public relations for Marketplace Ministries and a regular contributor to BPSports, on the Web at www.bpsports.net. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: BYRON NELSON.