Byron’s big payday

Byron Nelson, left, and Henry Picard at the 1937 Belmont Open Match Play.

Philadelphia golf historian and GHS member Pete Trenham has updated his wonderful website and is sharing stories from The archive of stories is appropriately titled “Trenham’s Treasure Trove.” Almost all of them deal with golf history that happened in and around the Philadelphia area, but all of them shed light on the doings of great golfers from the past.

With Trenham’s permission, we are sharing links to the stories. Be sure to visit the website mentioned above. You won’t be disappointed. Below is a gem concerning Byron Nelson.

In 1937, 25-year-old Byron Nelson won the fourth playing of the Masters Tournament and picked up a check for $1,500. The country was in the midst of “The Great Depression” and money was tight, but this was far from the largest check he would win that year.

After his Masters victory, which he won by finishing two strokes in front of Ralph Guldahl and three ahead of Ed Dudley, the host professional, Nelson reported to Reading, Pa. as the new head professional at the Reading Country Club (RCC). It was a busy summer for the new head man. In May he played in the PGA Championship and in June he was competing in the U.S. Open. Even though Nelson had won the Masters and was fifth on the PGA Winter Tour money list, he had to qualify locally for both the PGA and US Open

Next Nelson was off to Southport, England for the Ryder Cup, which was held in late June. In the second week of July he was playing in the British Open in Scotland. Soon after returning from Scotland he won the one-day 36-hole Central Pennsylvania Open at his home course, RCC. Tying for first he won an 18-hole playoff five days later. First prize was $150.

In early September Nelson was playing in Milton Hershey’s 72-hole Hershey Open, which had a first prize of $1,200, $300 less than his first prize from the Masters. He would later tell people that he used the $1,500 to stock his golf shop at Reading. First prize at the U.S Open that year was $1,000 and $1,200 at the PGA Championship. The best was yet to come, later that month.

In the fourth week of September the golf professionals, along with some amateurs, were in Massachusetts vying for the largest purse of the year. The Belmont Country Club was hosting the Belmont Open Match Play, with a purse of $12,000 for the pros. That year the purses at the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA had been $5,000, $6,000 and $9,200.

Even though the Philadelphia PGA Championship was less than seven days away, every Philadelphia golf professional who thought he could play a little was there, 16 of them. It seemed like everyone was there, 221 golf professionals and amateurs were entered. A 36-hole qualifying tournament was held for all entries with a cut to the low 150 players after round one. After 36 holes the low 64 qualified for match play.

The first two matches were 18 holes and the four after that were 36-hole matches. After seven days and 180 scheduled holes, Reading Country Club’s Byron Nelson and Hershey Country Club’s Henry Picard were in the final. At the end of 18 holes the match was even. In the afternoon there was a steady pelting rain, but it did not seem to bother Nelson who prevailed by the margin of 5&4. First prize was $3,000, double what Nelson had won at Augusta in April. Picard picked up a check for $2,000.