Tall and rangy at 6-1 with enormous hands, Nelson achieved the pinnacle by developing an action that is considered the basis for the modern golf swing. Coming of age just as the steel shaft was replacing hickory, Nelson learned that using the big muscles in the hips and legs could be a more reliable, powerful and effective way to hit a golf ball than the more wristy method that had been employed in the era of hickory. Nelson was particularly noteworthy for the way his swing was more upright and along the target line, employing a full shoulder turn with restricted wrist cock, and for the way he kept his knees flexed in the downswing.
When Nelson was developing his swing, he would sometimes be stricken with episodes of shanking until he found a forward swing correction. “I actually felt like I moved my head back while my body went forward,” he said. “The more I did that, the better I got.” Nelson also believed one of the keys to his ability was an uncanny sense for judging distance.
Nelson reached his peak as World War II was ending. In 75 starts from 1944 to the end of 1946, he won 34 times and finished second 16 times. In those three years, he finished out of the top 10 just once, with a tie for 13th at Pensacola in 1946. Arnold Palmer, who grew up with Nelson as his idol, said, “Byron Nelson accomplished things on the pro tour that never have been and never will be approached.”
Nelson retired from full-time competition after that 1946 season, settling down at 34 to a Texas ranch whose purchase had been a large part of his motivation when he was winning so often. His last official victory was the 1952 Bing Crosby Pro-Am, and he won the 1955 French Open. Along with his influence on Venturi, Nelson helped many young players with their games, including Tom Watson. Nelson also worked for several years as a television commentator for ABC Sports.