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Golf’s most impressive record? Byron Nelson might own it

Sammy Byrd, PGA president Ed Dudley and 1945 PGA champion Byron Nelson
At the 1945 PGA Championship, runner-up Sammy Byrd (from left) poses with PGA president Ed Dudley and winner Byron Nelson.

The late Byron Nelson won 11 PGA Tour titles in a row in 1945, but is the streak golf’s greatest mark? Hawk & Purk square off

Hawk & Purk Podcast Hero Article

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the Hawk & Purk podcast on MorningRead.com, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Is Byron Nelson’s streak of 11 consecutive PGA Tour victories, accomplished in 1945, the most impressive record in golf history?

Hawk’s take: It’s almost sacrilegious to think otherwise, virtually impossible to imagine it happening today, which actually makes it easier to justify a couple of alternatives. To win all four major championships in succession, as Tiger Woods did at the start of the century, is the most remarkable feat the game has ever seen. Jack Nicklaus’ overall total of 18 major titles – twice as many as Ben Hogan, with only Woods (15) and Walter Hagen (11) reaching double digits – testifies to an incomparable level of superiority for a very long period of time.

Both of those achievements rank ahead of Nelson’s streak. Lord Byron was dominant in his day, but 76 years ago, the game still was young in the United States. The fields Nelson beat couldn’t come close to matching the competitive depth we now take for granted, and World War II only weakened that opposition within a sport still in a developmental phase.

Hogan, Nelson, Sam Snead. After that, we’re talking slim pickings. Hey, winning 11 straight times in checkers is pretty awesome, which isn’t meant as a snarky slight to one of the greatest golfers who ever lived. Sometimes, clear perspective requires a cup of reality without a smiley face.

Woods broke Nelson’s longstanding record for single-season scoring average in 2000, then surpassed the Texan’s mark for most consecutive cuts made a few years later. The fact that someone could go almost 7½ years (142 starts) without flying home on a Friday night is utterly dumbfounding. So is 11 wins in a row, but that was then, and this is now.

Purk’s take: The invincibility of a record can be measured by how close anyone has come to breaking it. And as far as Byron Nelson’s streak of 11 consecutive victories is concerned, the answer is, it’s practically untouchable.

Tiger Woods, one of the two greatest players ever, won seven consecutive starts – but not in the same year. His streak was achieved in 2006-07. Woods won six in a row in 1999-2000 and five straight in 2007-08, the only player in history to win at least five consecutive starts three times, which is probably itself an unbreakable record.

The idea that Nelson bulldozed through fields depleted by World War II is singularly irrelevant. Comparing eras always has been fruitless, such as contending that Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak was built on the back of pitching that was inferior compared with today’s depth of talent on the mound. The record stands, no matter when it was accomplished.

So, let’s not go there where Nelson is concerned. The great Bobby Jones often said, “You can only beat those who show up to be beaten.” Nelson won 18 tournaments in 1945, including the PGA Championship, which was the only major championship played that year. His scoring average of 68.33 stood as a record until Woods eclipsed it in 2000.

And because another Tiger Woods is unlikely to come along, Nelson’s record is locked up safely, golf’s crown jewel of achievements.

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