The Bond Between Tom Watson and Byron Nelson

tom watson and byron nelson

Many know Tom Watson as one of the most esteemed golfers of all time with his five wins at The Open Championship, two Masters titles and one U.S. Open victory. He has won a collective 39 tournaments on the PGA TOUR and was named PGA TOUR Player of the Year six times.

But behind these accomplishments were also struggles. At the 1974 U.S. Open, Watson, then only 24 and a recent Stanford graduate, had a one-shot lead after 54 holes. The young golfer was in sight of victory when he teed off on the last 18 holes for America’s National Championship. But Watson struggled uncharacteristically — shooting a 79, including 41 on the back nine.


Defeated, Watson walked off the course and was greeted by Byron Nelson himself.


“Tom, I love the way you play golf,” Byron Nelson said, “and I love the way you conduct yourself on the golf course. If you’d ever like to work on your game with me, feel free to call.”


In that moment, a mentorship and friendship formed that Watson will cherish forever. Although they worked on swings and techniques, Watson said that the biggest and most important lessons he learned from the legend weren’t technical at all.


“Byron was a great friend, a great mentor and about the finest swinger of the golf club I ever saw,” said Watson. “To be allowed in his company means a lot to me.”


From 1975 to 1977, Watson won seven times, including three majors. He also went on to win the AT&T Byron Nelson a total of four times, first in 1975 and then back-to-back-to-back in 1978, 1979 and 1980.

Watson played in 28 consecutive AT&T Byron Nelson tournaments, his last one being in 1999. He was awarded the Byron Nelson Prize in 2010 by Salesmanship Club of Dallas to recognize players that show contributions to the game, character, sportsmanship, integrity and community service — all the traits that Mr. Nelson embodied.