Do you remember the first time you encountered Lee Trevino and what was your impression of him?
I heard him before I actually saw him on the practice range in Dallas, Texas. He was working the ball left and right at will with ease all while talking to anyone who would listen. He was very impressive indeed and little did I know at the time that we would become firm friends for over half a century.
What is it like in your experience to compete with or play in a group with Trevino? I spoke with Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson who only had the warmest recollections, but do you remember any times where Mr. Trevino’s talkativeness made players really mad?
Trevino was and is today a chatter box. Some players like Ben Hogan would not say a word to you during the round. Well I take that back. Once I got five words from Hogan – “Morning, fella.” and “Well played, son.” Sam Snead would not even look at you swing. But that’s just how Lee is. You do what helps you focus, to relax and in his case, it’s talking – a lot. It never bothered me at all but others did get mad.
Really, it’s a habit, but I love him for it. Especially when we are playing partners – talking out shots, lining up putts. It makes the round more enjoyable if you adopt the right attitude.
In his autobiography, Trevino talks about being virtually self-taught as a player. That was unusual then and almost unheard of now. What do you think were the attributes that allowed him to pick up such a difficult game without much in the way of formal instruction?
The swing is not the thing. It’s the mind that gets you out of a bind. You can have a textbook swing but never win a tournament. From tee to green, he is one of the very best to ever play this game. And you know why? He was very poor growing up, and to be successful at any level in golf, you have to practice countless hours. Those who face adversity early in their life, and rise above it, their goals and aspirations will become more robust because, if you come through this hard time, you can get through the next. We all know golf is more mental than physical.
Lee is a rare breed. And his career is proof that the mind trumps all. With how over-developed the young players are today, I’m not sure there will ever be another to come up just like him. Seve Ballesteros is another great example.
The game has become incredibly proficient at building bankable stars but at the same time, most of those young men are likable but awfully careful in their public presentation. They’re regimented and all developed in a similar way. Can you talk about Trevino’s background – self thought, unique character, gambler, working class – and how different the sport was then, when you were getting your start?
He probably would have been reprimanded (laughs) by someone. A lot of the players in my prime may have gotten themselves in all kinds of trouble. Definitely Arnold Palmer. With all the cameras on phones and social media. We at least were fortunate to have some sense of privacy before all of this technology took over people’s lives. But Trevino would have been one of the best follows on social media. A fiery, opinionated Mexican dominating golf – the world was enthralled with him then, I can only imagine how popular he would be today. And he was a real super star. In my opinion, you have to win at least six Majors (or complete the career Grand Slam) to be an all-time super star of golf.
Players today are coached more so than we were in the past to be politically correct in virtually every statement they make. Being in the public eye today is a different animal than in the 60s and 70s. But the obligation to the fans, sponsors and media remains unchanged. They are the lifeblood of professional golf. We are indebted to each of them.
Can you imagine how a flamboyant figure like Trevino would have translated to our contemporary media landscape?
Oh my goodness. I laugh just thinking about how he would fit in today. He is truly one-of-a-kind. He definitely would be one of the best followed golfers on tour just he is today.
Both you and Trevino made your way onto the tour as relative outsiders – neither of you raised through the traditional syndicate of American golf. Do you think there is a certain value to having an outsider’s reputation in the ultimate insider’s sport?
Absolutely. We see things differently. I hope we gained the respect of our competitors because they knew how difficult it was to break into this sport from the outside.
You have to remember, there wasn’t a lot of money in professional golf back then. We were fighting to feed our families. Certainly no private jets. Forget the international travel (which was a whole other beast), just playing in America we would finish a tournament, rent a car, and drive a long, long way to be at the next course for our practice round. It was a challenge. But I am grateful for our struggles and delighted at what the young pros have today.
Do you have a favorite memory of your time together on or off the course?
There are of course so many, but I do recall being in South Africa during the world’s first Million Dollar Challenge at Sun City and finding him sitting with all the local caddies, having a beer, and just telling them stories. They were all laughing, having fun and hanging on his every word. Being around Lee was always a positive experience and he has been such a great contributor to the game worldwide.
Article by The Ringer