Lee Trevino is accurately described as one of the most entertaining professionals in the history of the game, and a lot of that is thanks to his modest upbringing.
The illegitimate son of an immigrant Mexican grave digger, Lee Trevino came from such a humble background that it is remarkable he managed to make such a massive impact on a sport usually synonymous with wealth and exclusivity.
“Rich people talk about their backgrounds,” Trevino would later muse. “We were too poor to care. We just managed to exist.”
In fact his family’s four-roomed shack had neither electricity nor running water. The only reason the young Trevino began playing golf was because his home was in a field next to Glen Lakes CC.
“In those days I used to practise golf shots off the mud. Today I put a new ball on pegs with my own name on them. Sure, I’ve come a long way,” he reminisced.
Trevino left school early to become a greenkeeper at Glen Lakes and also caddied whenever he could and snuck in a few holes at dusk when no-one was around.
Even with all of the early immersion into the game, he only took a serious interest in golf after joining the marines at age 17. When asked if he played any sports, Trevino mentioned golf and the marines decided to give him a try – he shot a round of 66.
When he was transferred to the Far East along with his unit, he played golf in places like Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines. Needless to say, by the time he returned home from service in 1961, he was pretty good.
Back home, Trevino started meeting people with full wallets, who believed themselves to be better than him, and Lee Trevino the hustler was born.
One of his signature ploys to sucker punters in was to play with only one golf club, a rusty 3-iron. He also gave his opponents handicap shots to convince them to increase the wager.
Another of Trevino’s scams was to play with a Dr Pepper bottle wrapped in adhesive tape. He would attract big crowds in the evenings doing his demonstrations while working at Hardy’s Pitch-n-Putt. He would then challenge wealthy golfers, using conventional clubs, to matches and earned as much as $200 a week.
Trevino described this part of his life as an excellent foundation for success and dealing with the pressure of playing on the dazzling professional tours.
“Pressure is when you’ve got $3 in your pocket and you’re playing for $10,” he said.
In 1967 he decided to join the tour full-time after he won the Rookie of the Year award. He was still considered a rank outsider when he arrived at the 1968 US Open.
He won the tournament in stunning fashion by beating Jack Nicklaus by four shots and became the first player in US Open history to break 70 in all four rounds.
The prime of his career was in the early 1970s – he won the US Tour’s moneylist title in 1970 and had an extraordinary winning streak in 1971, during which he won the US, British and Canadian Opens within a month.
Trevino retained The Open the following year after chipping in four times during the tournament.
Despite never experiencing such a rich vein of form again in his career, he still went on to claim two PGA Championships and a British Masters title. Unfortunately he never managed to win a Masters tournament, claiming that he had difficulty with the course as well as with the attitudes of the people at Augusta.
The secret to Trevino’s success lay in his accuracy off the tee. It was once said about him that the only time he went off the fairway was to make a telephone call.
He is almost as well known for his behaviour and talkative nature on the course as he is for his skill with club in hand and the light-hearted way in which he engaged with the galleries helped make him a firm crowd favourite.
British golfer Neil Coles once asked the R&A if he could play with someone other than Trevino, as he found him too distracting. Tony Jacklin also tried to pre-empt Trevino’s antics by requesting that their match be played with a certain degree of silence so that he could concentrate, to which Trevino replied, “Sure, you don’t have to say a word.”
Trevino has never lost sight of his humble beginnings, despite earning a lot of money in his career.
“A lot of guys on tour gripe about the travel and the food, and losing their laundry, but no matter how bad the food is, I’ve eaten worse. And I couldn’t care less about the dry-cleaning because I remember when I only had one shirt.”
Lee Buck Trevino
Born: 1 December 1939
First win: 1965 Texas State Open
Career wins: 89
Lee Trevino Quotes
?“I still sweat. My guts are still grinding out there. Sometimes I have enough cotton in my mouth to knit a sweater.”
?”How can they beat me? I’ve been struck by lightning, had two back operations, and been divorced twice.”
?“I adore the game of golf. I won’t ever retire.“
?“I’m not out there just to be dancing around. I expect to win every time I tee up.”
?“I’ve played golf with three US presidents.”
?“A hungry dog hunts best.”