Byron Nelson, the Swing Machine

byron nelson topByron Nelson is the greatest ball-striker ever on the PGA Tour, though not many would know it or even remember his name as something other than the man for whom the “Iron Byron” golf swing machine is named.

I would ask anyone who says Byron Nelson wasn’t the greatest swinger ever, why did they name the machine after him?  Tom Watson had said once that Byron hit at least two flag-sticks every round he played.

Byron himself, when asked how the more modern equipment would have benefited him, said, “Not at all – I always hit the ball on the sweet spot, and the new equipment is to make imperfect shots longer and more accurate.  They wouldn’t have helped me any…”

His swing was very mechanically-correct, so it’s an MCS swing all the way.

The problem is that Byron Nelson was a simple man with simple tastes and desires, and he retired from golf just when it was becoming more mainstream with television and the like.

It is likely that his retirement helped Ben Hogan become the legend he was, because Hogan was always the second-best against Nelson before Byron retired.

Byron Nelson’s “Shift & Post” Pivot

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He won 11 tournaments in a row and 18 in the 1945 season, and he said his only motivation was to earn enough money to buy his dreamed-of ranch to which he would retire to become a full-time rancher, which he did the very next year at age 34, likely while still at his peak.

Ken Venturi On Byron Nelson

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Get this: In his 12 years as a playing professional, he won 52 PGA Tour events, 5 of which were majors.  52 wins, 5 majors, in 12 years, before retiring at age 34.  He was awesome, and left the Tour much too early, or he would likely have set more unbreakable records.

mike austinPeople who follow Mike Austin’s method of swinging often wonder if there was ever a similar swing action on the PGA Tour.  If you’re looking for a similar action in the pivot, then Nelson is your man.

Nelson had a “shift & post” pivot action that is different from Hogan’s floating pivot.  Nelson is said to have developed the first “modern swing” of the era when hickory shafts were replaced by stiffer and stronger steel shafts as well.   So much greatness in a man so unknown by the general golf public.

I’ll talk more about the great ball-striker later, but here’s a great example of a “shift & post” pivot.

ben hogan swingCome to think of it, the golf machine should have been named the “Iron Ben Hogan” or something, because the purpose of the floating pivot is to swing in a stable position much like the Iron Byron itself, but using the lower body to power the swing.

Nelson has a shifting pivot, which is nothing like the Iron Byron.

Still, the man was a natural great, and largely had the same swing his entire pro career once he figured out how to hit the steel-shafted clubs, and there has been none like him since.

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19 thoughts on “Byron Nelson, the Swing Machine

  1. peterallenby2013

    imagine winning 18 tournaments in a year now.! With today’s purses, you’d buy the ranch, the town, maybe the county, state, or province! Swing looks soo much like Austin! That dip in the downswing is interesting – kept the club moving in the plane of the ball when struck perhaps?

    Again, what is with the current obsession with “coiling” against the rear leg?? Look at this swing, Austin, Hogan, Nicklaus, Player, Watson and of course, Watts. These swings are in balance and balletic compared to todays motion…Maybe Beau Hossler at University of Texas comes close in today’s generations at the “classic” swing..

    1. D Watts Post author

      Hi Peter, good to see you!

      I would attribute that head dip on the down swing to the fact that Byron was swinging more on the “2-D” angle (up and down the line) rather than using the MCS/Austin “3-D” diagonal angle. Instead of falling back to the right as with the Trebuchet Drop, his head just dropped to maintain the stability of the swing coming down.

      At any rate, the man was straight as a die.

      1. peterallenby2013

        Remember as well that Nelson was one of the first players to excel playing in both the hickory and steel shaft eras. In fact, Nelson is widely thought of as one of the first players to “figure out” steel shafts and how to maximize the power inherent in this then new and radical shaft material. He learned to hit down on the ball with steel shafts before most.

        Perhaps his signature move in the downswing: his “dip” was part of his discovery on how to keep the ball online. Noted followers of Byron such as Tom Watson have stated that Byron kept the club square to the ball following impact far longer than others – Maybe the dip was a move to prolong that piece of the swing path. Maybe it was simply his signature quirk, a “Texas Two-Step” move that made him feel and own his swing…

        Better than Hogan, worse than Hogan, better than Snead, worse than Snead??? Who knows – What I find they and all great ball strikers possess is a beautiful sense of timing and uncanny ability to hit golf balls of that era with unerring accuracy.
        I never grow tired of watching any and all of these players swing!

  2. msattler2013

    With all Due respect DJ In my view Hogan was by far the best ball striker ever . Nelson was good at a younger age than Hogan . But once Hogan got his swing perfected no one was even close to the ballstriker he was.
    Nelson had that strange dippie due in his swing . I am not sure how he hit the ball as well as he did with that strange hitch in it . (Almost a little Barkley like)

    1. D Watts Post author

      msattler, no harm in disagreeing. This is purely subjective, there’s no way to prove that one was a better ball-striker, but here’s something for you in response – Hogan didn’t break any of Nelson’s records after Nelson retired.

      And Hogan didn’t set the scoring average record (68.33) that Tiger broke – that was Nelson’s scoring record…just saying… 😉

  3. msattler2013

    Your video doesn’t show his dippsie due as much as some others have . I am not saying he was not accurate. He was a very good player for sure. Just not as good as Hogan was once he perfected his swing
    In the mid to late for40, s . Also one has to wonder what Hogan wouod have done if he had never been in that car wreck . He may have ended up with 20 some majors .

    1. D Watts Post author

      “He was a very good player for sure. Just not as good as Hogan was once he perfected his swing…”

      Total disagreement on that point, msattler – Nelson won 52 tournament, 5 majors, in 12 years, and then retired at age 34. Give him another ten years, what do you think those numbers would have been?

      He won 6 tournaments in the year he retired. Probably had already checked out mentally. But at the end of the ’45 season, he had 45 wins to Hogan’s 21. They were the same age. They grew up playing against each other and Nelson always beat him.

      That’s more than a good player. Don’t let your personal admiration for Hogan obscure the facts… 68.33 scoring average, only bested by Tiger, and Hogan never beat that record.

      Hogan developed into a great player, but Nelson was the standard for ball-striking until he retired. Hogan didn’t start winning big until Nelson was gone.

      Can’t prove it either way, but I would take Nelson at his prime over Hogan.

      Just saying! 😀

  4. msattler2013

    The year Nelson won all those tournaments Hogan and Sneead and most of the good players were off fighting in WW2. Nelson had some health issue so could not go. But he had very little competition that year.
    I have heard many talk about Hogan and Moe Norman being the two best ballstrikers ever . I have not heard people talk about Nelson . Everyone is welcome to their opinion. I don’t consider it even close . Hogan was head and shoulders above Nelson. ( MAYBE NOT EARLY IN HIS CAREER BUT CERTAINLY ONCE HOGAN PERFECTED HIS SWING IN THE LATE 40S )

    You certainly DJ are a swing guru and I respect your opinion big time. But I just don’t see it as even close . I would put Nelson behind about 5 golfers . Bobby Jones , Jack, of Course Hogan , Tiger early in career (not now ) Moe , maybe more.

    1. D Watts Post author

      msattler, Ben Hogan was stationed in the States during the war, and he played, winning 5 tournaments in 1945. His U.S. Open win in ’45 is not considered an official U.S. Open win because of the war.

      Sam Snead also played during the war, winning two tournaments each in both ’42 and ’44 and 6 in ’45.

      People don’t talk about Nelson because he retired before golf became mainstream. He was better than Hogan until the day he retired. Whatever Hogan did afterwards was without Nelson as competition. Because of this, all we have is opinion.

      Tiger Woods is not even in the top 10 when it comes to ball-striking. I’m talking about the swing here, not wins. Tiger could never hit his driver, except perhaps a couple of years during his best days. If you can’t hit driver, you can’t be considered as one of the greatest ball-strikers ever. Not in my book.

      Like I said, nothing wrong in disagreeing, msattler. You have your opinion, I have mine. It’s all good 🙂

  5. Brandon

    hmmm…..interesting discussion. I never thought of Nelson as the greatest ballstriker because everyone always talks about Hogan and Norman, but after reading Deej’s take, it actually makes sense. In that time, striking was a premium and Nelson was routinely beating everyone including Hogan and Snead. Although it is true that the best of Hogan was not present during the reign of Lord Byron, Lord Byron was 4 or 5 years into retirement when the best Ben Hogan emerged. Sometimes in sports the best don’t always get the credit they deserve. Think about it, in order for Nelson, Hogan or Snead to win they had to be phenominal ball strikers, period.

    Nelson deserves to be in the same talk as Norman, Hogan and Snead. Nelson is a top 5 golfer of all time based on his record. Too many people focus on reputation without giving credit to what the golfer actually did. But this is purely opinion.

    1. D Watts Post author

      Yup, B-man, that’s exactly what I was discussing with msattler – we all have our opinions, because “best” can only be argued with subjective standards.

      It’s a fun discussion, and I don’t care if others disagree with my opinion, at which I arrive by looking at certain stats. Different stats might be more important to someone else forming their own opinion, but I’m all for the discussion! 😀

  6. buddhabob

    I think some are barking up the wrong tree. At that supreme level I think its mentality and temperament that wins the bigtime. Nelson and Nicklaus had a supreme,relaxed confidence and mental focus in spades. All these cats had great frickin natural swings. That was not the difference maker. Look at how Johnny Miller melted away.

    Look at Austin who just could not win much of anything and was never taken seriously. Its the mental makeup at that level that sets apart the men from the boys. Same goes for Joe Montana, Jerry West,Bill Russell, Sandy Koufax. There were other more gifted athletes but there were never any better big game winners than a sample like that, I suspect Nelson was a real Texas gamer and would have made one helluva poker player, cool as a cucumber while under fire.

  7. bigtoilet

    BuddhaBob hits at least 2 flagsticks every round he plays also…….But that’s because he doesn’t take the flagstick out when he putts….LOL

    1. peterallenby2013

      Hah! I could leave the flagstick in on every hole and maybe hit two a WEEK! BuddhaBob has an excellent point BT…

      At the elite level of any sport, there may be differences in athletic ability, but the real distinguishing feature of a champion is the mental approach.I used to play a little tennis with a guy who was a ranked pro on the ATP Tour.

      He told me when he played seriously and for a living, Bjorn Borg, Swedish tennis great, used to love hitting/practicing with him because he was a lefty (like McEnroe, his biggest rival for many years), and he had far more powerful ground strokes than McEnroe.

      When I asked my friend what the difference was between his game and Borg’s the answer was “nothing on the physical side – I can beat him. But the reason Bjorn is a champion is that his game never varies. He is always on, beyond consistent. He makes fewer errors in almost every match.”

  8. bigtoilet

    “FEWER ERRORS” Now that’s EXACTLY why I am with Master Watts!! I am sure I can eliminate (Mechanical) errors with what we work on. And THAT’S what I want my game all about.

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