Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, and once worked together in the same caddie yard.
Though both were destined to turn professional in the 1930s, their paths took different trajectories.
Nelson gained early stardom by winning his first major at the 1937 Masters Tournament with a birdie-eagle burst at the 12th and 13th holes in the final round. Hogan, meanwhile, struggled to control a hook and couldn’t break through in a major.
Nelson would go on to add two more majors to his résumé, and in 1942 he crossed paths with Hogan again.
With the world at war and most big events suspended, the Masters was held for the last time before a three-year hiatus. Nelson and Hogan would be the principal figures as high drama played out at Augusta National Golf Club.
Nelson took the 36-hole lead with a torrid 68-67 start, but Hogan closed the gap with 67 in the third round. When Nelson stumbled to 73 in the final round, Hogan forged a tie with 70.
The Monday playoff was just the second in the brief history of the tournament. Under ideal conditions and in front of a reported gallery of 4,000 fans, Nelson and Hogan stepped on the first tee for what would prove to be an epic battle.
Nelson said he was battling a nervous stomach on the day of the playoff.
“I remember seeing Byron’s wife, Louise, in a corridor of the Bon-Air Hotel that morning,” Hogan recalled in a Masters Journal article. “And she told me he was sick. I said, ‘Uh-oh. I don’t want to play him today.’ I’ve seen too many guys play their best golf when they’re sick. It happens all the time.”
Nelson got off to a sluggish start.
He hit a poor tee shot on the first hole, which led to a double bogey. After a bogey at the fourth, Nelson found himself three shots behind the steady Hogan.
Nelson cut into the lead with a birdie at the sixth while Hogan made bogey. At the par-5 eighth, Nelson laced his second shot to within six feet of the cup, and rolled in the putt for eagle.
After both made pars at No. 9, Nelson held a one-shot lead.
A bogey at the 10th dropped Hogan two back, then Nelson put on a brilliant display with birdies at the 11th, 12th and 13th holes.
Hogan battled back with birdies at Nos. 14 and 15, but that would be as close as he would get. A bogey on the 16th sealed his fate.
A closing bogey left Nelson with 69, yet he still played the final 13 holes in 5-under fashion. Hogan played excellent golf, making five birdies, but he finished one shot back with 70.
With no one knowing how long the Masters Tournament would be suspended or the war would last, the gallery was treated to one of the best showdowns in tournament history.
Nelson would win a record 11 tournaments in a row in 1945 and soon thereafter retire to start his ranch in Texas.
Hogan would go on to win nine majors, including two Masters, as he became a legend of the game. Not bad for a couple of former caddies who came of age during the Depression.
The playoff victory made Nelson the second two-time Masters winner.
“Except for the first hole, I think that was the finest round of golf I ever shot,” Nelson said. “It easily could have been a 66 or 67.”