With the HP Byron Nelson Championship being played this week, it naturally brings to mind Lord Byron’s remarkable 1945 season in which he won 11 consecutive tournaments and 18 for the year.
And it got me thinking – is Nelson’s run of 11 straight victories (the second of which came at Myers Park Country Club in a playoff with Sam Snead) the greatest achievement in golf history?
It’s the most unreachable record, for certain. Tiger Woods won seven in a row once and six in a row another time while Ben Hogan won six in a row once. Otherwise, no one has gotten half as far as Nelson went.
Here’s my list of the 10 greatest achievements in golf history:
10. Tiger’s cut streak
Woods made the cut in a remarkable 142 consecutive PGA Tour events, breaking Nelson’s record of 113. Granted, Woods played in multiple no-cut events that counted in the streak (Nelson’s streak also included some no-cut events) but it remains a 7½ year stretch of sustained excellence.
It’s worth noting that the last event in the streak was the 2005 Wachovia Championship at Quail Hollow Club.
9. Mr. 59
When Al Geiberger shot 59 at Colonial Country Club in the second round of the Danny Thomas Memphis Open, he broke golf’s four-minute mile.
There was nothing flukey about it. Geiberger did it on a hot day on a 7,000-yard golf course using a persimmon-headed driver.
Five other PGA Tour players have posted 59 since but Geiberger is golf’s Roger Bannister.
8. Arnie at Cherry Hills
You know the story by now. After the morning round of the U.S. Open’s then-traditional Saturday finish, Arnold Palmer was seven strokes behind leader Mike Souchak.
At lunch, Palmer asked his sports writer friend Bob Drum what would happen if he shot 65 in the afternoon.
Nothing, Drum told him.
“It would give me 280,” Palmer told Drum. “Doesn’t 280 always win the Open?”
“Only when Hogan shoots it,” Drum said.
Palmer went out, drove the green on the 346-yard par-4 first hole, made a birdie at shot 65 to win his only U.S. Open when Ben Hogan finished bogey, triple-bogey.
7. Jack in ‘86
Like Palmer in ’60, Nicklaus seemed too far behind when the final round of the 1986 Masters began and was a virtual afterthought until he birdied the ninth hole.
And the 10th and the 11th.
A bogey at 12, another birdie at 13, an eagle at 15, a near-ace at 16 and the ‘yes, sir!’ birdie at 17.
30 on the back. 65 on Sunday. A sixth green jacket.
The coolest day ever at Augusta.
6. Tiger conquers Augusta
Woods’ victory in the 1997 Masters reached beyond golf. It was a socially important achievement, the first man of color to win the Masters.
I remember being in the crowd near the first tee when he teed off in the final round, his victory essentially secure with a nine-shot lead, and seeing Lee Elder, the first African-American to play in the Masters. I remember seeing African-American staff members coming out of the clubhouse to watch.
Woods won by 12 strokes at 18-under par, both tournament records. Golf changed.
5. Francis Ouimet wins the U.S. Open
When the 20-year old Ouimet, an amateur, beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18-hole playoff to win the 1913 U.S. Open near his home at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., it was a massive upset.
Ouimet’s success – Vardon and Ray were considered the two best players in the world -- brought golf into the consciousness of the American public and the game’s popularity soon boomed.
4. Hogan’s great season
In 1953, four years after a nearly fatal auto accident, Ben Hogan played in just seven tournaments.
He won five of them.
Three of his victories were major championships – the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open – by a combined 15 strokes.
Because qualifying for the PGA Championship overlapped with the British Open, Hogan couldn’t play in the year’s fourth major championship but he became the first player to win three professional majors in the same year.
3. The Tiger Slam
Jack Nicklaus may still be considered golf’s greatest champion but no one has played golf better than Tiger Woods in 2000 and 2001.
Just look at his victory in the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. At 12-under par, he became the first player in the 106-year history of the U.S. Open to finish double-digits under par and he won by a remarkable 15 strokes despite a third-round triple bogey.
He went on to win the Open Championship at St. Andrews, beat Bob May in a playoff for the PGA at Valhalla and finished it off at the 2001 Masters. Only the calendar kept it from being the true grand slam of golf.
2. Nelson’s streak
Think about it – he won 11 consecutive tournaments.
You’d think somewhere along the line, he’d hit it someplace bad and make a triple-bogey that cost him. Or the putts wouldn’t fall or someone got silly hot. Nothing stopped Nelson.
The rap against it, if there is one, is it was a war year (1945) and the fields weren’t as deep as they might have been. But Ben Hogan and Sam Snead won were playing and, between them, won 11 events in ’45.
The streak started in Miami then ran through Charlotte, Greensboro and Durham then on down the line.
1. Bobby Jones grand slam
It’s the achievement against which all others in golf are judged.
What Jones accomplished in 1930 – winning the U.S. and British Amateurs and the U.S. and British Opens – has never been equaled, though Woods came very close.
He played under enormous expectations – he even placed a bet with British oddsmakers on himself at 50-1 that paid off $80,000 – that he could win golf’s four majors in the same year.
Jones retired after the achievement to start Augusta National and what became the Masters. Not a bad second act.