AT&T Byron Nelson Memories with Jimmy Burch

AT&T Byron Nelson at TPC Four Seasons in Las Colinas (Photo/Four Seasons)

This week would have been the AT&T Byron Nelson, the Dallas PGA Tour event that is one of five stops in Texas. The tournament would have been its third and final year to be played at Trinity Forest Golf Club in South Dallas, which followed a 35-year run at the TPC Four Seasons Resort in Las Colinas.

Beginning next year, the Nelson will be played at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney.

With no AT&T Byron Nelson for 2020, we visited with longtime DFW-area golf writer Jimmy Burch about some of his favorite memories from his two-plus decades of covering the AT&T Byron Nelson.

BLITZ: What was the best part (or parts) about covering the Byron Nelson when it was at the TPC Four Seasons?

JIMMY BURCH: Logistically, it was maybe the best set-up I have seen for covering an event. The media area actually was set up in a real building (an indoor tennis court), rather than an oversized tent. The tennis center was very close to the locker room and the player interview area. Best of all, the media area had a frozen macchiato machine and iFratelli’s pizza, plus beer, at the conclusion of rounds. Terrific combination.

BLITZ: Do you have any special memories of dealing with Mr. Nelson over the years?

JB: Fortunately, I got to spend a good deal of time around Byron and Peggy Nelson. Two delightful people. There are dozens of cherished memories, but two stand out and reveal a lot about Mr. Nelson:

1. As part of a 50th anniversary piece, we did a lengthy interview at his house in 1995. Nelson, 83 at the time, recounted the highlight moments from every tournament he won during his historic 1945 season (18 total wins, including a PGA Tour-record 11 in a row) as well as the streak-breaker. We must have talked for 3 hours. I drove home, the phone rang, and it was Mr. Nelson. He wanted to correct a recollection he shared about an opponent’s ball position during a pivotal playoff hole in one of the wins. It was a minor detail but … YES, his recall was that good and his mind was that sharp at 83.

2. After visiting the Nelsons’ home for another interview session, I was preparing to leave when Peggy Nelson stopped me. Their hens had been prolific egg producers that week, she explained, and they had a couple dozen that they could never eat. She asked if I wanted them and I thanked her and took them home. Some of the greatest omelettes ever!!

BLITZ: What are some of the crazier things that you experienced while covering the Nelson?

JB: Lots of things come to mind, but I rode out a tornado warning – and a nearby touchdown – during a rain delay at the 1994 Nelson. Fortunately, we were set up in the indoor tennis center so we were sheltered. Because all of the players, fans and media members were urged to clear the course and seek shelter, basically every media member covering the event was milling around in the room. Because we were truly indoors, we could hear the rain die down but did not realize the severity of the threat. After a half hour or so, several media members tried to head to their cars once the torrential downpour stopped. A PGA Tour media official grabbed the mic used for player interviews and shouted: “People, don’t go anywhere! This is real. Just stay in this room and stay safe! It’s dangerous out there.” About an hour later, we were all cleared to leave.

BLITZ: What was it like to cover Tiger Woods at the height of Tigermania at the Nelson?

JB: All-encompassing. At that time, the Tiger tale was still unfolding and there was not a hotter story in sports. My story about his golf clinic at a Dallas municipal course the Sunday before the Nelson wound up being front-page news. The S-T literally had two game plans for Nelson & Colonial coverage that year: one for Tiger, one for the rest of the tournament. Because the Nelson was Tiger’s first tournament back since winning the Masters in record-breaking fashion as a 21-year-old, it was televised live on ESPN – globally. When he won at TPC, his Tuesday presser from FW during Colonial week also was a world-wide, live telecast. It felt like covering the President. Only with multiple countries dialed in, not just the US.

BLITZ: What would you say to those who say the Nelson (in its heyday) was more of a party than a golf tournament?

JB: One word: Absolutely! And there’s nothing wrong with that. Who doesn’t enjoy a good party?

BLITZ: Do the DFW sports fans realize how lucky they are to have the Nelson and Colonial, given how completely different the two weeks are?

JB: No. But it is a really sweet combination for true golf fans who appreciate the differences and the uniqueness of the situation.

BLITZ: Do you have a favorite year or two of the Nelson that stand out? Why was that year or were those years special?

JB: My favorite moment, because of its absolute uniqueness, was the year that the final round went to a playoff between three pretty high-profile players – Phil Mickelson, Jesper Parnevik and Davis Love III – and CBS dropped the national feed while the event was still unfolding (common in those days, not allowed now). Suddenly, local CBS broadcaster Babe Laufenberg was stepping in to the void to “call” the live finish for DFW sports fans in what was supposed to be his wrap-up show. Fortunately, Jesper ended the playoff quickly and one of our reporters tracked down the colorful, witty Laufenberg for an outstanding, humorous sidebar that ran the next day. The only other thing close to that unusual was watching six guys tee off in a sudden death playoff that Neal Lancaster won on the 37th – and final – hold of the infamous, rain-delayed “Half Nelson” in 1994. Only two rounds were completed before Lancaster won the playoff with the lone birdie among the six playoff contestants.