By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
It's a shameful recollection about a day I naively assumed a first marriage would last, about a moment I flippantly reduced Byron Nelson to a prop.
"OK, OK, I'm gyot one!" I slurred to bleary-eyed buddies as my wedding pre-game deteriorated into an alcohol-aided perversion of H-O-R-S-E on the Four Seasons Resort TPC putting green. "Up on this ledge. And off the...off the...um, whatzitcalled? Statue! Awesome!"
Only years later did I realize an unholy matrimony christened with golf balls spanked off bronzed icons was doomed to fizzle. Only last week did I truly grasp golf's—no, make that life's—golden rule:
Don't shit on Byron Nelson.
Repentance, here goes. Lord Byron, I'm sorry for temporarily turning your tournament home into Caligula's campground. For purposely skulling my Ultra off your 9-foot-6 effigy. For drinking a shot of Johnnie Walker out of your cart girl's shoe. For skinny-dipping in your canal. And for lying "I do" upon the same wedding lawn that your widow, Peggy, received your Congressional Gold Medal.
Tiger Woods, you wanna go next?
Because the way I see it, turning your back on Byron is the worst sin of all.
Despite a dead namesake, notable no-shows and splotchy greens that looked more Iraq than Irving, the EDS Byron Nelson Classic will survive. Without the legendary Nelson to greet players on the bumpy, burned-out 18th green, most of the world's top golfers shunned his tournament. Tiger. Jim Furyk. Ernie Els. In all, eight of the planet's top 10 couldn't find time to play their final respects.
"I cherish my relationship with today's current players," Nelson says over speakers greeting patrons along the tournament's Champions Way entrance. "I take real pride in that and hope it lasts forever."
Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh notwithstanding, the players are rolling Byron over in his grave. Tiger, recipient of Nelson's hand-written notes and hand-carved good luck charms, avoided last week's tributes. The world's most famous athlete skipped the F-18s' flyover, the bagpipes, the unprecedented moment of silence, the sunrise service, the medal ceremony and the eerie empty chair at 18.
We're supposed to buy your Buicks, but you don't have the decency to attend when Nelson is posthumously granted an award reserved for the likes of George Washington, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa? Turns out you're stingier with your time than Sheryl Crow with her toilet paper.
Byron, the gentleman with the elegant swing and the eloquent manner, deserves better.
Fortunately, his tournament has evolved into a full Nelson featuring girls, giving and, oh yeah, golf. It's an event so big, so beneficial and so bawdy that it can exist—gasp!—without Tiger. Quick, how many of you—260,000 for the week and 80,000 on Sunday—went solely to watch golf?
At the heart of the eternal staying power is the Salesmanship Club of Dallas. The Nelson will top $100 million in donations with this year's expected $6 million gift, by far the PGA Tour's most charitable tournament. Long after the beers have been excreted and the millionaires have taken private jets to their next resort, the SCD will continue working toward making Dallas a happier, healthier place.
There's a family works center by Bachman Lake, a family therapy center in the Stemmons Corridor, an institute for excellence in urban education and, of course, the J. Erik Jonsson Community School, a research-based lab school in Oak Cliff that has 90 percent of its students passing the TAKS tests. In all, the SCD—fueled by The Nelson's $90 badges and 12-coupon alcohol—helps 3,000 area kids.
It's not a margarita. It's an investment in a troubled child.
"The charitable component makes this tournament so special," Irving resident and CBS golf analyst David Feherty told viewers Saturday while walking the course wearing the SCD's traditionally gaudy red slacks. "Trust me, it's an honor to be wearing a pair of pants I otherwise wouldn't be caught dead in."
The Nelson, however, is as much about hot pants. It's about Dallas' largest swingers' party, where the voyeurs dressed in spikes and collars salivate at the exhibitionists in low-cut tops, high-rise skirts and variable morals. It's about glistening skin, giant tents—I said tents—and golfers reduced to movie extras, shuffling aimlessly in the background while the leading men and women examine each other's strokes.
It's about The Pavilion. And it's about the parties. Like, oh, say, this one.
You recognize Kevin Kirk as "Thunder," the animated, entertaining AC/DC lip-syncher who works Mavericks crowds into froth. But when he's not channeling Brian Johnson, he's throwing The Nelson's coolest, hottest bash. A lob wedge from the TPC's fourth green, Kirk transforms his course-side mansion into a week-long Real World, complete with Hooters calendar girls, a bottomless bar, half the world's supply of silicone and collagen, and familiar faces such as Dallas sports agent Jordan Woy, former NBA Slam Dunk champ Spud Webb, Denver Broncos Super Bowl champ Ray Crockett and former Cowboys Mike Saxon, Tony Dorsett and Tony Casillas.
Amused and perhaps jealous, golfer Tommy Armour III salutes the party as he meanders toward the fifth tee.
"Seven years ago we started with 50 people," Kirk says. "Now we're up to 500. I'm turning away girls trying to get in by flashing and guys trying to buy their way in. Best part is that next year I'm going to turn this thing into a donation to the Salesmanship Club."
For fleeting, magical moments, The Nelson is sometimes more about birdies than chicks. While Tiger and his disrespectful gaggle of golfers neglected the first Nelson without Nelson—What, we should stop celebrating the Fourth of July because, after all, Paul Revere long ago expired?—Byron's biggest fan showed up in pain and walked away in tears.
Dallas' own Scott Verplank, playing with a severe shoulder injury and without a win on the tour since 2002, wouldn't dream of dissin' Nelson or the tournament he's grown to love since his mom was an SCD volunteer in the '70s. When he sank the winning putt Sunday, he fell to his knees, looked to the sky and said, "Thank you!"
As he accepted Byron's fedora (Nelson. Tom Landry. Jack Ruby. Shouldn't Dallas mandate a Fedora Day?), a $1.1 million check and a hug from Peggy, Verplank whispered, "He was out there with me."
Cue the goose bumps. Print the 2008 invitations.
Byron Nelson is dead, but his tournament lives.