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May 22, 2001

Byron Nelson


Q. Thank you. I want to really say thanks for the membership of the Ridgewood Country Club and for spending this time with me. Everybody up there thinks a lot of you, and is -- we're always glad to hear good things about you, and we're sorry you're not going to make it this year, but they sent me out to have a little chat with you and you don't know how much they're going to appreciate this. Hopefully down the line we'll be able to pull this tape out, look at it and talk about the history of the club and you certainly are a big part of that.

BYRON NELSON: Well, you know, my feelings about the Ridgewood Country Club is more than one fold; it's many folds because when I -- when George Jacobus was looking for an assistant in 1935, he came to Augusta. I happened to have qualified to get there because I beat Lawson Little who was the best amateur in the world. That got me the invitation there in '35. I played some other pretty good rounds. And so George was there, and he knew Ed Dudley. Ed Dudley was president of the PGA, and he wanted a new, young U.S. citizen that had a possibility of being a nice man and good player. Ed recommended me and he hired me. So that's where I got to Ridgewood, through Augusta in 1935. And that really was a wonderful stepping stone for me personally and for my career, because the three great nines at the course are east, west and center, it was something that if you could learn to play those, you could learn to play those, you can play anywhere because of the way they're laid out, the design of the course and everything. So that was the first good thing that happened to me in the advancement of my career, was when I got hired by George to be the assistant there in '35.

Q. What were your first impressions of the golf course?

BYRON NELSON: Well, I knew so little about golf courses basically because I had been raised in Fort Worth, Texas and the golf courses, none of them had watered fairways, they had very little sand. What sand they had then, they didn't know how to do it and the wind would blow it out of the bunkers even. When I went to Chester County, I played there, we didn't have no bunkers there. There were bunkers there, but they were grass because they did that -- times were so tough -- that was the '30s, times were so tough that they didn't have the money to put sand in them. So I had no -- that was new to me to see bunkers. I knew there were such things because I had seen other courses, so that opened my eyes to that, so that's another reason why, the things were so great for me there because when you learned to play those three nines, well, you could go and play anywhere because they had everything that you need to do to learn. And then, of course, the thing was -- George was, of course, being president of the PGA and as knowledgeable as he was, I think he started at 15 years old and stayed there as long as he was a pro. So I learned the trade, I learned how to run a golf shop and those type of things with George, and that enabled me in 1937, when I got the job at Ridgewood Country Club as the head pro, I had that background and that was a tremendous help.

Q. What was your favorite nine?

BYRON NELSON: I think the west. I think the west, a peculiar thing, there's a very unusual thing. Even though I played well -- I started playing well and played well there, my rounds. I had some good rounds, bad rounds -- good rounds and bad rounds, and I hadn't been able to put the four rounds together. They began to get better, and my bad rounds began to come down. So the thing that made it good for me was the fact that if you -- if you wanted to go out and practice, a lot of times there was people playing the east and west and I played on the center. So I'd go out on the center and play by myself, hit balls by myself. That would be it. But when I was there, the best score in '35 and '36 that I played there was 68 on any port, any nine, any 18, playing any nines, a combination. And so when I won the Open in 1939, they invited me back there and they had a big party for me. And I think, if my memory was right, I shot in the low 60s in that round. And, boy, I thought -- I never thought much about being a champion, but the fact of how I played that course within four or five strokes better than I ever played before, that made me realize that my game was progressing.

Q. Any one hole on the 27 your favorite?

BYRON NELSON: No, not really. I never been much to pick out a particular favorite hole on a golf course. I like the nine or I like -- and I like, as I said earlier, I like the west and the east, but I like that center also. But if I had a choice, I'd play the east and the west, or west and east, whichever way you want to put it. But I don't have any particular stand out, there was -- maybe -- I can't even call it, but there was a par 5 on the west. About 7 or 8.

Q. Would have been the 8th hole.

BYRON NELSON: 8th hole. 8th hole, I knew. That was some good par 5 one. I remember that. That was, I knew that 7 or 8, of course, you're talking about 65 years ago. But anyway, that was my favorite hole.

Q. The 6th hole on the center is a little bitty par 4 that sometimes nowadays we'll go for with drivers. Did you ever do that?

BYRON NELSON: No, no, I never did. You know, you -- there's two things. In the days we played, you played more for accuracy, to keep the ball in play, and they said then that also there was a theory, a world-wide theory, if you hit the ball, if you're a long hitter, you couldn't putt. I don't know why, but that was true. And so I wanted to be able to drive and putt all right, so I never did work on hitting the ball far. Now I could, if I come to par 5 on a long hole that had a little opening where a little maybe -- didn't have to be so narrow, then I would lengthen my swing, I normally would play about three-quarters. What I call just a (inaudible). Then I would go back almost parallel and I would go 20 yards. But I played like, that you run down a highway without bad traffic, I played like you'd run 60 miles an hour. Then you come to a place where there's no traffic, then I'd run 80. That's about the best way I can explain the way I played.

Q. Is there any one type of golf shot that Ridgewood Country Club Favors?

BYRON NELSON: Well, yes. I think the course -- you have to hit the driver ball fairly straight. But I think your medium irons, back in those days, now 5-irons, 6-irons, those medium irons, you had a lot of those shots and they were very, very necessary if you were going to play there. Medium irons. And I was later, in my career, known as a good long iron player, and I think that learning to play there has had a lot of bearing on that.

Q. Let's talk about the Ryder Cup. You refereed, which I thought was kind of interesting.

BYRON NELSON: Well, the Ryder Cup, I was of course -- I had heard about, I played golf enough and read about the Ryder Cup. But when I went to work for George, I didn't realize that the Ryder Cup was going to be there that fall. After I went there, I soon found out it was. Well, I thought there would be nice support. But here, the teams came in, you see all the best players in the world, if I say at that time, the United States and Great Britain. So they had the slacks and coat, the same golf bags and shoes and everything, I thought, "Man, that is something else." I thought, "I'm going to be on that Ryder Cup, as quick as I can get out of here, I'm going to go work on my game more." I think that encouraged me to see that. Then of course in watching the good players play, for all the rounds that they played and being there was -- it was inspiring and also helpful to me seeing these good players play. I didn't copy anybody's game, but it inspired me to realize that if you swing right, you're gonna play okay.

Q. We're hosting the Senior PGA Championship in Ridgewood from May 20th through the 27th. It's the first time it's been held outside of Florida in 40 years. Will you be watching.

BYRON NELSON: I will watch it. I guarantee you I'll be watching it, and for a number of reasons. I like to watch it, number one, to see how they play the golf course up there and see what they do because there's some fine players out there. Of course a number of the players are good friends of mine, but Hale Irwin, who's a great player, I think he's got one of the best golf swings consistently that I ever saw. It looks good, he plays well. And he's the first pro that I ever introduced my present wife Peggy to when we started going together. I'll never forget it, because he knew my other wife, of course she had been dead, and died. So we were at Jack Nicklaus' tournament, and Peg accidentally was there because she was living in Dayton. She was down there and she saw me before I saw her. She came over. Because I had met her at the Bogey Buster tournament in Dayton a few years before that. So that had a good ring to it, when I saw her. But I left her and I saw her, and I was headed to go out and practice, see, because they were putting on a clinic and Peter Chasen (phonetic spelling), who was as funny as he could be, was putting on a clinic, puts the golf balls in his shirt and stuff, looked like Craig Stadler and stuff. So he did a great job. So we went out and watched him put on his show. That was the first time. I was the honoree there in 1980, and then I stayed on and worked at the Captain's Club which is the board that helps them invite people and so forth for the tournament. So I stayed on and did that for about seven or eight years.

Q. I really do appreciate this time. I'm going to ask you to do one more thing for me. One more time will you tell the flagpole story.

BYRON NELSON: Well, the flagpole story was a very peculiar and unusual and a lucky story. I had finished practicing, it was late in the day, I had been hitting a lot of balls. Some of the caddies were around, who I had become friendly with (inaudible.) A couple of young players from the club were there. The pro shop was already locked up. So I came around, they were standing there, getting ready to go home. And I had a 3-iron in my hand, and so they said -- and they had heard me say that I was used to playing on the hard turf. In Texas, it was. Because we used to produce a lot of great players in the State of Texas because there wasn't a -- you had to learn how to shimmy the ball any way you could to get it up there. Well, so they said, "Do you think you can hit it off that flag stone?" I said, "Sure, I'm used to playing on that flat, hard stuff." They said, "Well, do you think you could hit that flagpole out there?" I said, "What do you bet?" I asked them, put your points down here. Fifty-three cents, fifty-three cents (laughing.) So I took my 3-iron and I bounced off a little bit, then I hit the first one. I tried to fade the first one a little bit. I wasn't much -- I could fade it all right, but it didn't work well fading it because you had to kind of open the face a little bit, it would bounce, so I missed it about ten feet to the right. I said, "I'm going to go down and play my normal little (inaudible)." I did and I hit that pole the second ball, hit the pole the second ball. Luckiest thing in the world. Because my guess, the pole was this big around, I was 80 yards away, 60 yards away. I picked up my 53 cents and still got it I guess. (Laughing.) But, you know, I could stand there a month and not do that again, it's funny how things happen to you. Just strictly luck. Of course you got to hit it where you're looking, I don't mean that, it wasn't all luck. But actually hitting a ball off of something hard like that, if you don't hit behind it, if you hit just right, hitting that hard, it straightens the face of the club up if you got a little (inaudible), it straightens it up.

Q. Well, I know this has been an imposition to you. It's a busy, busy week for you. I'm so honored and the Club is honored that you're a part of our history. Thank you for this time and the moment together.

BYRON NELSON: Well I thank you and I thank Ridgewood for in my background the thing that I'm so proud of, for being there and what it meant to me and still does. And I'm just sorry that I -- I originally thought, of course I knew -- you hadn't told me, but somewhere I got in my mind it was going to be in July. But this is a very -- busiest week of my life and I have other commitments right after this. So it was just nearly impossible for me to do. But I would still love to be there, and I'll be there in spirit.

Q. Well, continued good health. We hope to bring back another team this fall for the Byron Nelson 11th straight Pro-Am. And you always take such good care of us. It's a major on our calendar.

BYRON NELSON: Well, thank you. This place does a great job of that 11 straight. It's remarkable how it's grown. Everybody loves it and I do, too. Thank you very much.

Q. Thanks again.

End of FastScripts....

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