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|| News Item: Posted 2009-12-28

Decade Collection: Darren Carroll
'I really grew as a photographer over the course of the project, and this image was the culmination of all of that encouragement, confidence, and discussion.'

By Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Portrait of golf legend Byron Nelson, photographed at his home on Roanoke, Texas on Saturday, September 9, 2006.
Photographed as part of a project of portraits of former U.S. Ryder Cup team captains for Sports Illustrated, this photograph is my favorite one of the past decade. Is it my best one? Maybe not --- but there’s a difference. “Best” suggests that there’s some objective or at least external factor judging the quality of an image; “favorite,” to me at least, implies that there’s an element of introspection involved—that there are personal reasons for liking an image, and that they are just as much a part of formulating our judgment as the image itself.

The portrait of Mr. Nelson (if that was good enough for every golfer on the planet, it’s good enough for me) carries a lot of personal "baggage" for me, making it special. For starters, it was the last shot of the first photo project I’d ever pitched to S.I. on my own. As such, it gave me the chance to get to know and work closely with Miriam Marseu, the golf picture editor at the magazine, for an extended period of time. Her encouragement was invaluable, her confidence in me helped to push me to try things I wouldn’t otherwise have attempted, and many of the things we talked about when it comes to portraiture and photography in general are things I still carry with me on every assignment that I do. In other words, I really grew as a photographer over the course of the project, and this image was the culmination of all of that encouragement, confidence, and discussion.

It was also a last chance to shoot film. And 4x5, at that. Sure, I’ll still break out the view cameras on occasion if I have time, but this was the last time that I specifically shot something with the intention of it being done on film. Every image of the 12-portrait project was shot on Polaroid Type 55 with my Linhof Technika view cameras; this one with a 1950s-era Schneider/Linhof 240mm lens. Just thinking about every technical element of the project is enough to make me get all nostalgic.

And speaking of nostalgia, there’s the subject himself. Byron Nelson was 94 years old when we shot this picture, yet he still recalled every shot that he hit in every golf tournament we talked about during the course of the hour-long shoot.

We had set up lights and a seamless in the garage of his house in Roanoke, Texas on a hot Saturday afternoon in September, but he didn’t mind the heat and gave me all the time I needed. Kind and gracious to a fault, soft-spoken yet firm in his opinions and convictions; he was the antithesis of the typical aloof and arrogant golfer of today’s generation.

He was a genuine joy to photograph. When I arrived back home and processed my negatives, I was immediately drawn to this image because of the way he was looking off-camera and the slight, subtle smile that his lips had curled into with no direction from me. It was only after I thought about it for a long time, replaying the shoot in my head, that I realized I had tripped the shutter just as his wife, Peggy, walked into the room.

Two weeks later, Mr. Nelson had passed away. I was on the way to a shoot in Austin when my brother called, asking if I’d heard the news. I had to pull the car off to the side of the road and collect my self a bit, unable to escape the thought that we’d lost one of the last remaining truly great legends of sport, a living link to a golden age that we’ll never see again, and that I had been given the privilege of spending an hour with him on what was, and still is, my favorite photo shoot of all time, let alone the decade.

(Darren Carroll is a freelance photographer based in Austin, TX. You can see more of his work at and

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