In 1945, Byron Nelson had a preposterous year. But you already knew that. His 18 victories out of 30 events is legendary, to say nothing of his never-to-be-equaled 11 wins in a row. However, in that year of years Lord Byron’s pinnacle of play did not happen on the hallowed grounds of such cathedral-like courses as Augusta National or Pebble Beach, but on the tree-lined fairways of Seattle’s own Broadmoor Golf Club.
Between October 11-14, 1945, Nelson, in his precise, workmanlike manner, proceeded to shoot a 72-hole world record-setting 259 (-21) at the Seattle Open, lapping second place Jug McSpaden by 13 strokes. In the 75 years since, the record has only been improved by six strokes. Nelson’s victory in Seattle netted him a cool $2,000 in war bonds (in current dollars, a laughable $28,873.48).
Nelson loved playing in the Northwest. East or west of the Cascades, it made no difference; clearly the Evergreen State brought out his best. Three weeks before his record-setting rounds in Seattle he made short work of the Esmeralda Open in Spokane, winning the tourney with a crisp 266. Second place? Jug McSpaden. (For the record, McSpaden finished second 13 times that year, seven of those to Nelson.)
At the Seattle Open, Nelson’s scores were 62-68-63-66. On his final round he hit 16 fairways. No shock to those familiar with his metronomic swing. Tommy Armour said, “Nelson plays golf shots like a virtuoso.” According to Nelson himself, he said, “I shot the easiest 259 you ever saw.”
Broadmoor officials estimated Nelson’s personal gallery at 3,000, but the swarming fans didn’t upset him. And according to one newspaper report, “Neither did the ferry boats quarreling with the fog out on Puget Sound, nor the horns of passing cars.” Evidently the reporter wasn’t aware that Puget Sound was eight miles away, beyond the reach of even the mightiest fog horns.
Alex Rose, writing in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, summed up Nelson’s record-shattering performance nicely: “Nelson’s golf yesterday was much like what he had on tap throughout the entire tournament – almost flawless. He was down the middle with his wood and iron tee shots and from there on his play was just as uncannily accurate. He gave his gallery the greatest exhibition of shot-making the world has ever seen.”
But the world didn’t see it. Only a lucky few thousand in Seattle.