Player Feature
Lee Trevino
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The 'Merry Mex' Trevino turns 79
Lee Trevino

Nothing was ever handed to Lee Trevino – he had to earn it the hard way.

And, in the week he turns 79, it pays to reflect on the man they called the ‘Merry Mex’ and his journey to the top of the world game.

Out in the fields picking cotton to make money for his family by the age of five, self-taught with one of the more unorthodox swings in the history of golf – Trevino looked a long shot to become one of the game’s great shot-makers.

But after 29 PGA Tour victories – six of them majors and two of them Claret Jugs – his is a triumph for talent and, most of all, hard work.

Humble beginnings

Trevino – a man who never knew his father – was raised by his mother and grandfather.

And the Mexican-American grew up in a four-room house with no electricity or plumbing – but that crucially was only 100 yards off the seventh fairway of the Glen Lakes Country Club.

His early forays into the game came after his grandfather brought him home a club – but he was never much more than an idiosyncratic amateur with an eye for a wager in his teenage years.

Then at 17, he lied about his age and went to serve in the US Marine Corps for four years – including two active tours in Asia.

Rise to prominence

After returning to the States at the age of 21, Trevino had brought his handicap right down to nearly scratch and continued to hustle local players due to his far from textbook swing.

There were a number of false starts to his professional career – but as you would expect, Trevino was not going to go down without a fight.

And in 1967 he made his breakthrough at the US Open, qualifying for the tournament and ending up fifth overall.

Now Trevino knew he could compete on the biggest stages and he finished that season as the PGA tour rookie of the year.

Peak years

With confidence now sky-high, Trevino was ready to take on the world and a year later he claimed his first major success at Oak Hill.

He broke 70 in all four rounds, holding off Jack Nicklaus to claim a four-shot victory that immediately put him into the headlines.

From then on for most of the early 1970s – theirs was a rivalry that caught fire.Indeed, it is to Trevino’s credit that in the same era as the greatest of them all, he still managed to claim six majors and won a PGA Tour title every year between 1968-1981.

Open drama

His relationship with the Claret Jug really began in 1970 when Trevino ended up tied for third at St Andrews as the great Nicklaus won it all.

But a year later at Royal Birkdale, Trevino was ready to claim the title of Champion Golfer of the Year for his own.

But the stage for that win had really been set a month earlier when Trevino had claimed his second major at the US Open.

 

That major – his second – became famous for the 18-hole play-off with Nicklaus and the rubber snake he threw at his rival.

Trevino always had a flair for the performance – he was known as the Merry Mex for his non-stop chatting on the course.

But it was his golf doing the talking most of all that summer as he reeled off the US Open, Canadian Open and The Open in the space of 23 days.

Muirfield magic

Twelve months later, and Trevino was back in Great Britain, but this time at Muirfield.

And there he became the first golfer since Arnold Palmer to claim back-to-back Claret Jugs.

The story of that 1972 win really came in the third round when Trevino tore up the back nine with five consecutive birdies from 14 to 18.

He holed chips and bunker shots for fun that week in Scotland, and eventually the pressure told on his playing partner Tony Jacklin in the final round.Jacklin three-putted after Trevino chipped in from off the green on the 17th – dubbing himself ‘the greatest chipper in the world’ in the process – and Trevino had done it.

That was his fourth major – his second Claret Jug on the spin and ended Nicklaus – who finished as runner-up in the end – and his hopes of a Grand Slam that year after wins in the Masters and the US Open.

More to come

1974 saw Trevino again hold off Nicklaus again to claim the US PGA for the first time and in 1980 the Claret Jug was almost his again when he finished as runner-up to Tom Watson.

But between those two events, Trevino was struck by lightning which precipitated chronic back problems and multiple surgeries to try and alleviate them.

But he still had one last bit of magic left in him, securing the 1984 US PGA crown at the age of 44 – and in the process becoming the first man to shoot all four rounds in the 60s at the PGA.

Legacy

Already voted into the Hall of Fame in 1981, Trevino’s transition onto the senior tour was smooth as silk.

He claimed four more majors and 29 titles in total and holds the distinction of never losing a Ryder Cup as a player – his match-play record finished at 17-7-6 in the famous old tournament.

He did however captain the 1985 team that went down to Jacklin’s Europeans – a measure of revenge for Jacklin after the Muirfield mistake.Trevino also spent time in the broadcast booth for NBC Sports but spending time with family was always his priority – he had six children and three marriages.

And his life and golfing career can be neatly summed up by one final quote from the grandstand performer: "I've been hit by lightning and been in the Marine Corps for four years. I've travelled the world and been about everywhere you can imagine. There's not anything I'm scared of except my wife.”