By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
IRVING, Texas -- Ken Venturi, the 1964 U.S. Open champ and famed TV golf analyst who died Friday at the age of 82, enjoyed a longtime friendship with Byron Nelson.
Peggy Nelson, Byron's widow, relayed the story Saturday of the first time Venturi saw Lord Byron. Venturi was just a kid and had taken a camera to the course to watch Nelson compete in a TOUR event. Venturi, in his eagerness to watch Nelson, found himself a little too close to the action.
"Byron said, 'Kid, could you move back under the ropes a little?'" Peggy said. "Ken goes home and tells his mom, 'I met the greatest man today, Byron Nelson, and he spoke to me.' His mother said, 'What did he say?'
'He said get out of the way, please.'"
Peggy Nelson discussed the fondness her late husband had for Venturi. Byron struck up a friendship when Venturi was a decorated amateur player, and they maintained that friendship for decades. When the PGA TOUR made its stop in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Venturi was working for CBS, he would get together with Nelson, who also had a brief career as a TV golf analyst.
"I'm sure one of the things Kenny would've learned from Byron is how Byron was so kind and so understanding and compassionate to the golfers out there," Peggy said. "He was not critical of them. He wouldn't make any kind of negative comments even if they missed a shot."
One of the most celebrated events involving Nelson and Venturi was a match at Cypress Point in 1956, in which Nelson -- already retired as a pro golfer -- and his Fort Worth rival Ben Hogan took on amateurs Venturi and Harvie Ward. Few people knew the details of the event until Mark Frost wrote the book, "The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever."
From then on, Nelson and Venturi remained friends. After Lord Byron died in 2006, Venturi stayed in touch with Peggy.
"Just a precious, precious friendship," Peggy said. "I think if Byron could have, he would've adopted Kenny. He was a great guy."
Mike McKinley, the HP Byron Nelson tournament chairman, also recognized the relationship between Byron Nelson and Venturi.
"Ken Venturi was a great friend of the tournament and he will be dearly missed," McKinley said in a statement. "Ken was the first of the young golfers that Byron mentored and he remained very close to Byron. He was a great friend to our tournament. The world of golf has lost another of its great gentlemen."