IRVING, Texas (AP) — Byron Nelson’s presence is still profoundly felt at the tournament that bears his name.
“His legacy to me is so powerful, which is why this tournament will continue on for a long time, by the strength of his legacy,” Tom Lehman said Tuesday during the opening ceremony of the first Nelson tournament without its namesake.
In 1968, Nelson became the first to have a PGA Tour event named after him. The man known as Lord Byron died Sept. 26 at his beloved ranch in nearby Roanoke at 94.
“I know that we all know where Byron is now, and we know he’s having a great time,” said his wife, Peggy. “And he wants us to have a great time this week.”
Peggy Nelson smiled and laughed throughout much of the 50-minute ceremony during which Lehman and others shared memories of her husband.
Those stories were about how Nelson touched and helped people, not a golf legacy that included 18 victories in 1945 and a mesmerizing streak of 11 in a row.
“It’s hard to believe that he had an even larger skill, and that was the human skill,” said Brian Whitcomb, president of the PGA of America. “Years ago, I played Byron Nelson woods, and they made me a better golfer. I can also tell you that I tried to play and emulate the life of Mr. Nelson, and that made me an even greater and much better human being.”
Play begins Thursday without Nelson sitting at the 18th green, where he used to greet players at the end of their rounds.
There will be a moment of silence during Saturday’s third round. His memory will also be honored during a sunrise service on the 18th green Sunday.
This year’s tournament has the theme of “Byron’s work for the kids continues.”
The EDS Byron Nelson Championship is the biggest charity fundraiser on the PGA Tour, giving more than $94 million to charities and expecting to surpass $100 million this year.
Among the many programs supported by the tournament is the J. Erik Jonsson Community School in Dallas. A group of 40 elementary-age children from the school sang an original tribute song written by one of their teachers.
Peggy Nelson dabbed tears as the kids sang. She had seen the words but hadn’t heard them sung before Tuesday.
The children sang lines such as “Golf was his claim to fame. Champion inside. … He taught us all by example every day. … You can do anything you feel you need to do. Reach for the stars, keep your faith in you.”
Lehman received the first Byron Nelson Prize, given to a person or organization in golf who exemplifies the ideals of “giving back” that Nelson personified. It is one of two international award programs created by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas to honor Nelson’s memory; the other is for junior golfers and will start next year.
“I’ve been inspired in my life by Byron Nelson,” Lehman said. “He’s inspired me to want to be a better golfer, but more importantly, a better person.”