This Week in Texas History: A column
by BARTEE HAILE
For the ninth time in 17 tournaments, a golfer from the Lone Star State won the Masters on Apr. 8, 1956.
Byron Nelson of Waxahachie and Fort Worth was only 23 years old, when he played in the second Masters, and his first, at the Augusta National Golf Club in 1935. He finished nine strokes off the pace but still in the Top Ten.
“Lord Byron” dropped to 13th place the following spring before starting a streak of a dozen Masters during which he never came in worse than eighth. During that impressive run, he took home the top prize twice — $1,500 in 1937 and the same amount in 1942.
Going into the back nine on the fourth and final round of the 1937 stroll through the Georgia pines, Nelson trailed another Texan, Ralph Guldahl of Dallas, by four strokes. He made up the difference and then some by shooting a two and a three on the 12th and 13th holes to Guldahl’s five and six to win with a couple of strokes to spare.
Guldahl, a back-to-back U.S. Open title holder, was Masters runner-up again in 1938 before hanging on to beat Sam Snead by the narrowest of margins in 1939. Then to everyone’s amazement he simply fell apart and never won another major event before quitting the PGA Tour for good in 1942 at the age of 31.
Meanwhile, Byron Nelson got better and better. He added the U.S. Open to his trophy case in 1939 and the PGA Championship the next year.
Nelson finished in a dead-heat with an up-and-comer from Dublin and Fort Worth in the 1942 Masters. Five holes into their playoff, Ben Hogan jumped out to a three-stroke lead but Nelson shot five under par the rest of the way to claim his second Masters.
While Byron Nelson would not triumph again at Augusta, he astonished the sports world in 1945 by winning 11 consecutive tournaments and a total of 18 of the 35 he entered. Although he continued to play the Masters well into the 1960’s, Nelson retired from full-time competition in 1946.
The baton was passed to two other Lone Star legends, Hogan and Jimmy Demaret of Houston. Of the two, the flamboyant Demaret with the colorful clothes and ear-pleasing singing voice was the first to win a major – the 1940 Masters.
Lloyd Mangrum, whose hometown was tiny Trenton in Fannin County, grabbed the lead with an eye-popping opening round of 64, a Masters record that would stand for 46 years.
But Demaret caught him on the second day and coasted to a four-stroke victory.
Mangrum has been called “the forgotten man of golf” and with good reason. A WWII veteran of the Normandy Landing and the Battle of the Bulge with three Purple Hearts, he accumulated 36 tour victories (five more than Demaret) and ten straight Top Ten finishes at the Masters before a bad heart forced him into early retirement.
Jimmy Demaret claimed his second top-money purse at Augusta in 1947 by shooting four under-par rounds, a Masters first. He beat Byron Nelson by two strokes, Ben Hogan by three and Lloyd Mangrum by six.
Three years later, Demaret chalked up another first with his third Masters title, but it took some doing. Jim Ferrier, the first Australian to win on the PGA Tour, squandered a four-stroke advantage with four bogeys and one double-bogey on the last six holes to hand the championship to Demaret on a silver platter.
In spite of the Aussie’s dramatic collapse, the main attraction at the 1950 Masters was Ben Hogan. Fourteen months after a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus, “The Hawk” not only defied doctors’ original prognosis that he would never walk again but played even-par golf to tie Byron Nelson for fourth.
But a Masters title was a long time coming for Hogan, who won the U.S. Open and the PGA twice before tasting victory on Alister MacKenzie’s course. He broke the drought at last in 1951 by shooting a bogey-free 68 in the fourth round for a two-stroke win.
Two years later, Hogan was in a class by himself as he bettered the Masters four-round record by five strokes with a 14-under 274. His closest competitor was a speck in his rear-view mirror five swings of a golf club behind him.
Nineteen fifty-three was the year of the historic “Hogan Slam.” No golfer before or since has won the first three major tournaments on the professional calendar – the Masters, the PGA and the British Open – and the gutty little Texan accomplished that feat at 40 and in constant pain.
No one has ever come from farther behind to win the Masters than Jack Burke, Jr. did in 1956. Of course, it helped that amateur Ken Venturi blew an eight-stroke lead that opened the door for the son of a Houston country club pro. Burke’s thrilling victory was the ninth by a Texan in the 17 Masters tournaments between 1937 and 1956.
The “Golden Age of Lone Star Golf” was over. With the exception of Charles Coody from Stamford in 1971 and Austin’s Ben Crenshaw in 1984 and 1995, it has been slim pickings for Texans at Augusta for more than half a century.
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