Lee Trevino golfs his way

Dearborn, Michigan is where it all began for Henry Ford in the world of automobiles and it’s where it ended for Lee Trevino when it comes to playing in major championships.

The Ford Senior Tour Championship at the Tournament Players Club in mid July marked Trevino’s last appearance in a major championship. This is a major for the Senior PGA Tour, and so that’s not good news.
Trevino, 61, has distinguished himself in professional golf since he turned pro in 1960. He was soon called SuperMex, and played the game with the vitality of somebody who wasn’t to the manor or clubhouse born. Trevino stood up to the ball in his own, unusual way, and slung the ball out on a low, fading flight. His ball control was and still is impeccable. The guy’s been fun to watch.

Played to crowd
He’s been fun to watch not only because of his idiosyncratic swing. Trevino was always playing to the crowd, laughing and chattering as he competed. This doesn’t mean he wasn’t serious, just that golf was a game to him. He got wealthy playing it, winning 27 PGA Tour events, and enriched the golf scene at the same time.

Trevino’s play in majors was usuallsuperb, except in the Masters. He didn’t feel all that good about his chances there because of his low-ball flight. The Augusta National course required a high flight to carry the hills and roll miles down the fairways, with shorter shots for the severely contoured greens. Trevino was never really a force at the Masters.

But he was a star in the other three majors. Trevino finished fifth in the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltusrol in New Jersey, when he first rose to national prominence. He then won the 1968 U.S. Open, his first win as a tour pro. That was some coming-out party, at the Oak Hill club in Rochester. He beat one Jack William Nicklaus by four shots. Trevino was the new golfing kid on the block. Hey, a player could do it his way.
A couple of years later Trevino won the 1971 U.S. Open, in a playoff over Jack Nicklaus at Merion, outside Philadelphia. He brought a rubber snake out of his golf bag on the first tee, which brought a chuckle from the more serious Nicklaus. Trevino wasn’t afraid of The Golden Bear, but maybe he wanted to get Nicklaus feeling snake-bitten. He shot 68 to Nicklaus’s 71.

Won British Open
That year Trevino also won the British Open, at Royal Birkdale in England. He followed with the 1972 British Open at Muirfield near Edinburgh, winning over Englishman Tony Jacklin. It appeared that Trevino was beaten when he was playing the 17th hole the last day. Jacklin was in position for a birdie or at worst a par on the par-five, while Trevino was off the green on his left to a hillside. It looked like Trevino hit his chip shot carelessly, but it rolled into the hole. Stunned, Jacklin three-putted.
Jacklin was never the same after that, and somehow felt snake-bitten himself. But Trevino was always the same, playing quickly and talking rapidly. He won the 1974 and 1984 PGA Championships, the 1990 U.S. Senior Open, the 1992 and 1994 Senior PGA Championships. On the PGA Tour he won three Canadian Opens. All told, Trevino has won 27 PGA Tour events and 29 Senior PGA Tour events.
“Oh, I’ll still play about 18 tournaments a year out here,” Trevino said on the practice range in Dearborn. “But no more of the 72-hole tournaments for me. I’ll play the regular 54-hole tournaments. So that means no majors for me. Nope, that’s it. But you won’t find me crying. I’ve done alright.”

Unforgettable in Woodbridge
He sure has. I’ll never forget when I caddied for the Canadian player Jim Nelford in the 1979 Canadian PGA Championship at the National in Woodbridge, Ontario. Trevino birdied the last four holes with a series of perfect shots, every one different. He hit the ball exactly as he wanted to; on the trajectory he chose and with the spin he wanted. Trevino shot 67 that memorable day, and it’s still a competitive course record at the National. He went on to win the tournament.
I’m convinced he could still win senior majors if he chose to play. But Trevino has a 12-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son, and coaches little-league baseball. He makes his presence felt, encouraging them to have some fun, to do things their way. Baseball’s a game. It could be a living down the road for a few lucky kids, but they’re the rare exceptions.
That’s what Trevino has been in golf: a rare exception. He grew up in a shack without electricity. Now he owns one of the largest houses in Dallas, and he’s proud of it. The guy’s been a major player in golf. He’ll miss the majors, and they’ll miss him.