DALLAS (BP)–Byron Nelson, one of golf’s greatest champions and a champion for his faith in Jesus Christ, died Sept. 26 at his ranch in Roanoke, Texas, near Dallas. He was 94.
“Byron was a great role model for all of us for his faith and the way he treated people,” said CBS-TV executive producer for golf Lance Barrow, who attended Richland Hills Church of Christ with Nelson.
“We are all a little bit better because of Byron Nelson,” Barrow said, “because we didn’t ever want to disappoint him or let him down.”
Nelson forever will be remembered for winning 11 straight PGA Tour events in 1945, a record which has never been approached, and 18 tournament victories in that one magical season.
Nelson, once asked how he would like to be remembered, had said, “I think the thing people will always talk about me is my degree of consistency on the golf course, winning money in 113 tournaments, but I want to be remembered as a good man and a Christian man. That’s all that really matters.”
He would mention to anyone who asked that he was most proud of being a Christian, churchgoing man who “didn’t smoke, drink or carouse or hang around girls who do.”
Nelson’s wife Peggy discovered him slumped over on a back porch chair at their home Tuesday morning around 9:30 a.m. after returning from a weekly Bible study at their church.
“Byron was a great man and a great golfer, but most importantly he was a great follower of Jesus Christ,” said PGA Tour chaplain Larry Moody, who has worked with pro golfers for nearly 20 years and knew Nelson well.
“He wasn’t pushy, but he would never hesitate to tell you if somebody said he was great that it was because of who Jesus Christ was in him.
“I think both Christians and non-Christians on the PGA Tour respected that because he was so good and genuine,” Moody said.
Nelson never hesitated to put his faith into action, attending the weekly PGA Tour Bible study several times when the PGA Tour tournament named for him, the Byron Nelson Championship, was held each May.
He would sometimes host the Bible study at his ranch, 30 minutes from the tournament site, and invited players to go to church with him on Sunday.
Nelson was a regular in his church’s Wednesday evening prayer service and didn’t even let the Nelson tournament affect his Sunday worship.
“Byron invited me to attend church with him when I was here, but it had to be early church because he had to get out to the tournament,” Moody recalled. “He was serious about his worship and his church and I always appreciated that.”
“To have a chance to meet Byron Nelson, a man I idolized for his play, his manner and his faith over the years, was just overwhelming,” tour player Bart Bryant said after first meeting Nelson at his namesake tournament.
“I think it’s important to talk about your faith,” Nelson said when asked about his public witness. “I have been a Christian and a churchgoer most of my life and that’s very important to me. The Lord has also been good to me and I’ve been blessed.”
Art Stricklin is vice president of public relations for Marketplace Chaplains USA in Dallas and a regular contributor to BPSports. He has covered 25 Byron Nelson Championships and spoken with or written dozen of stories on Byron Nelson over the last decade.