Completely self-taught, Lee Trevino's unorthodox swing has made golf pros shudder throughout his career. With a wide stance and a closed club face, he drives through the ball with a flat baseball-type swing. By the standards of traditional golf, he does everything wrong, which somehow turns out right. Trevino, who has long shunned golf instructors, once told the San Antonio Express-News, "I'll hire [an instructor] when I find one who can beat me." Over his career, which has spanned more than three decades, Trevino has found little need for any advice. Known as the Merry Mex for his nonstop chatting around the course, Trevino is an exceptional golfer as well as a favorite of galleries wherever he plays.
Caddie Shack Golfer
Lee Trevino was born on December 1, 1939 in Dallas, Texas. His father, Joseph, was not a part of his life, and he was raised by his mother, Juanita, a domestic, and his maternal grandfather, Joe Trevino, a Mexican immigrant who worked as a grave digger. The family lived in a four-room house with no electricity or plumbing that was about 100 yards off the seventh fairway of Glen Lakes Country Club. As a child, Trevino watched the golfers out on the fairway, and, after finding an old club, began to practice hitting balls around his yard. At the age of eight he began working as a caddie, and played golf on three short holes behind the caddie shack.
Trevino quit school after the seventh grade and took a job at Glen Lakes as an assistant groundskeeper. On the side he would work as a caddie and play a few holes at the end of the day. Lying about his age, Trevino joined the U.S. Marines when he was seventeen and served two two-year stints in Asia and played for the Third Marine Division golf squad. By the time he was discharged in 1961, he was a good golfer, with a four-handicap, but wanted to get better. He took a job at Hardy's Driving Range and played on the rough flat terrain of the Tenison Golf Course, a municipal course in Greenville, Texas, where he worked on developing his unusual swing to perfection.
To supplement his income, Trevino began hustling golf bets. At first, he d simply wager that he'd come out ahead in a round of golf. But when his winning ways scared off most of his competition, he began taking bets that he could win using a 26-ounce Dr. Pepper bottle wrapped in adhesive tape for a club. He later boasted that he never lost with that bottle. His early experience of wagering more money than he had to lose helped Trevino develop his competitive edge and his coolness under extreme pressure later in his career. Early in his professional career, Trevino would often place offcourse bets on his performance, sometimes winning as much on his wagers as he did in prize money.
Eventually Trevino found someone willing to subsidize his expenses for a few tournaments that didn't require Professional Golf Association (PGA) membership. During 1965 he played in three events, finishing first at the Texas State Open, second at the Mexico City Open, and fifth at the Panama Open. His performance was good enough to garner the support of Martin Lettunich, a wealthy cotton farmer from El Paso, who secured a job for Trevino at El Paso's Horizon Hills Country Club.
In 1965 Lettunich and his buddies invited Raymond Floyd, a rising star on the PGA, to challenge a local player. As Sports Illustrated retold the now-legendary anecdote, "Floyd pulled into Horizon Hills in a white Cadillac, where he was met by a young Hispanic clubhouse boy, who retrieved Floyd's clubs from the trunk, escorted him to the locker room, and shined his shoes. 'Who am I playing today?' Floyd asked. 'You're talking to him,' Trevino replied." The two played three rounds, and with one hole left, Trevino was up by a stroke. Floyd saved himself from the embarrassment of losing by eagling the final hole to win by one. Packing up his clubs, Floyd told Trevino, "Adios. I've got easier games than this on the Tour." The two would meet again many times on the PGA and Champions Tours.
|1939||Born in Dallas, Texas|
|1956-60||Serves in the U.S. Marines|
|1960-65||Head professional at Hardy's Driving Range in Dallas|
|1966||Joins the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour; becomes chairman of the board of Lee Trevino Enterprises, Inc.|
|1966-67||Assistant professional as Horizon Hills Country Club, El Paso, Texas|
|1983-89||Golf commentator for the National Broadcasting Network (NBC)|
|1984||Retires from the PGA Tour|
|1989||Joins the Champions Tour|
Joining the PGA in 1966, Trevino played in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Country Club in San Francisco. Tying for fifty-fourth place, he returned home with $600 and severe doubts about his future in golf. The following year, Trevino's wife sent off the twenty dollar registration fee for the 1967 U.S. Open trials despite her husband's misgivings. At the qualifying event, Trevino shot under 70 in both rounds, posting the best score of all qualifiers. He then shocked everyone, including himself, by finishing fifth in the U.S. Open. With new confidence, Trevino played a dozen more tournaments in 1966, finishing out of the money only twice and was named Rookie of the Year.
Trevino's first tournament, and first major, win came in 1968 when he took the U.S. Open, shooting a record four rounds under 70 (69, 68, 69, 69). Later in the year he won the Hawaiian Open. Although he only won total of three tournaments in 1969 and 1970 (the Tucson Open twice and the National Airlines Open Invitational), he managed to place in the money often enough to place him among the tour's top money winners.
A Year and a Career to Remember
Coming off a 13-month winless stretch, Trevino's breakthrough came between April and July 1971, during which time he won six tournaments. He won the U.S. Open, Canadian Open, and British Open championships in sucession within a 23-day period. In a thrilling finish that remains one of the highlights of his career, Trevino won his second U.S. Open championship in four years by beating legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus by three strokes in a playoff round. Although an acute case of appendicitis requiring emergency surgery slowed Trevino during the second half of the 1971 season, he received numerous awards, including Golf 's PGA Player of the Year, Sports Illustrated 's Sportsman of the Year, and the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year.
By the time he retired from the PGA Tour in 1984, Trevino had won 29 PGA tournaments along with an array of international and special events. His six major titles included his two U.S. Open titles in 1968 and 1971, the British Open title in 1971 and 1972, and the PGA Championship in 1974 and 1984. Suffering from chronic back problems, brought on by being struck by lightening in 1975, Trevino retired from the PGA Tour in 1984 and spent some time in the broadcasting booth for NBC Sports.
Joins the Seniors
In 1989 Trevino turned fifty and became eligible for the Champions Tour (previously known as the PGA Senior Tour) and joined the tour for the last event of the season. If he was a star on the PGA Tour, Trevino quickly became a superstar on the senior tour. In 1990 he was the leading money winner in all of golf, with over $1 million in single-season earnings. He won seven titles during the year, including once again beating Nicklaus, this time at the U.S. Senior Open by shooting a 67 on his final round. He was named both Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year.
Trevino won three tournaments in 1991 and in 1992 had five victories before injuring his thumb in June, which required surgery. Despite his shortened season, he was once again named Player of the Year and once again took home more than $1 million in winnings. Still recovering from his thumb injury, Trevino managed just three wins in 1993, but stormed back in 1994 with six victories and a career-high $1.2 million in earnings. He was named the Champion's Tour Player of the Year for the third time. The following year he became the tour's all-time winningest player after notching his twenty-five victory, a position he held until overtaken by Hale Irwin, six years his junior, who had a total of 36 Champions Tour titles by 2002.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1966||Named Rookie of the Year by the Professional Golf Association (PGA)|
|1968||Wins U.S. Open|
|1970||Named Texas Professional Athlete of the Year by the Texas Sports Association|
|1970-74, 1980||Awarded the Vardon Trophy from the PGA five times for lowest average strokes per round by a professional golfer|
|1971||Wins U.S. Open; wins British Open; receives Hickok Belt for professional athlete of the year; received Gold Tee Award; named Player of the Year by PGA and Golf ; named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated ; named International Sports Personality of the Year by the British Broadcasting Association; named Male Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press; named Top Performer in Golf by Sport ; named Sports Man of the Year by The Sporting News.|
|1972||Wins British Open|
|1974||Wins PGA Championship; wins World Series of Golf|
|1978||Inducted into the Texas Golf Hall of Fame|
|1979||Inducted into the American Golf Hall of Fame|
|1981||Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame|
|1984||Wins PGA Championship|
|1990||Wins U.S. Senior Open|
|1992, 1994||Wins PGA Seniors Championship|
Related Biography: Golfer Hale Irwin
Hale Irwin was a two-sport athlete at the University of Colorado, winning the 1967 National Collegiate Athletic Association golf championship as well as being a two-time All-Big-8 football defensive back. His first PGA Tour victory came in 1971 when he won the Sea Pines Heritage Classic, and he had 20 tournament wins by 1994, including three majors (the U.S. Open title in 1974, 1979, and 1990).
Irwin joined the Champions Tour in 1995, finishing first in two events his rookie year and two in his sophomore year, one being the PGA Seniors Championship. By 1997 Irwin had begun his domination of the senior tour in earnest. He won an incredible nine tournaments, including his second PGA Seniors Championship, which he won for the third consecutive year in 1998. He continued to finish on top of the leader board, including wins at the 1999 Ford Senior Players Championship and at the 2000 U.S. Senior Open.
In 2001 Irwin surpassed Trevino as the winningest player on the senior tour by taking his thirtieth win. By the end of the 2002 season, he had 36 Champion Tour victories. He also set a new record for earnings, surpassing his previous record of $2.86 million with a total of $3.3 million in 2002, becoming the oldest player to win the money title.
Although he continued to win an occasional tournament during the latter part of the 1990s, Trevino's presence in the top spot of the leader board became less frequent. He captured his first victory in two years when he won the Cadillac NFL Golf Classic in 2000. He is one of only two golfers (the other is Gary Player) who has won a tournament in each of three decades. "I wouldn't still be playing if I didn't think I could still win," Trevino told Golf World after his twenty-ninth senior tour win. "If I don't think I can win, then I'll just quit. It may even happen in the middle of a round." In 2002 his best finish was a tie for ninth at the Napa Valley Championship. Despite his slide down the points and win list, Trevino remains one of the game's most popular players.
The Merry Mex
A gifted if unorthodox player, Trevino, known as the Merry Mex, is gregarious and talkative, usually chatting nonstop around the course. He is a fan favorite, who adds a sense of showmanship and fun to a sport that often emphasizes reserve and rectitude. Known for his easy laugh and sometimes sharp wit, he has an uncanny ability to focus, relax, and refocus his way around a golf course that can unnerve his competitors who don't possess the same gift. Married for the third time, Trevino has two children with his wife, Claudia, and four children from his previous marriages. Trevino summed up his simple golfing philosophy that has carried him through his 35-year career with a characteristically caustic bit of wisdom: "The two things that don't last," he told Sports Illustrated, "are pros putting for bogey and dogs chasin' cars."
Address: Assured Management Company, 1901 W. 47th Place, Ste. 200, Westwood, Kansas 66205.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY TREVINO:
(With Oscar Fraley) I Can Help Your Game. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1971.
(With Dick Aultman) Groove Your Golf Swing My Way. New York: Atheneum, 1976.
(With Sam Blair) They Call Me Super Mex. New York: Random House, 1982.
(With Sam Blair) The Snake in the Sandtrap (And Other Misadventures on the Golf Tour). New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1985.
The Complete Marquis Who's Who. New York: Marquis Who's Who, 2001.
Dictionary of Hispanic Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. 5 vols. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000.
Anderson, Kelli. "Lee Trevino." Sports Illustrated (June 7, 1993): 52-3.
Fields, Bill. "Solitary Man." Golf World (January 19, 2001): 23.
Garrity, John. "Lee Trevino." Sports Illustrated (April 25, 1994): 46-7.
Looney, Douglas S. "Artistry Revisited." Sports Illustrated (July 9, 1990): 20-1.
McDermott, Barry. "It's an Old Man's Game After All." Sports Illustrated (August 27, 1984): 28-30.
Moore, Kenny. "It's Nifty Being 50." Sports Illustrated (December 18, 1989): 34-7.
"Trevino Ends Drought." Golf World (June 30, 2000): 34.
Yocom, Guy. "My Shot." Golf Digest (May 2002): 124.
Contemporary Authors Online. Gale, 2003. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Detroit: The Gale Group, 2003. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioR (January 8, 2003).
"Lee Trevino." American Decades CD-ROM. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group, 2003. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioR (January 8, 2003).
"Lee Trevino." Golf Europe. http://www.golfeurope.com/almanac/players/trevino.htm (January 8, 2003).
"Lee Trevino." Professional Golf Association. http://www.pgatour.com (January 8, 2003).
Sketch by Kari Bethel
Lee Trevino (born 1939) was an innovator in one of the most traditional of sports: professional golf. Born into poverty, he mastered the sport with a homemade club and an unconventional golfing swing, rising in the ranks to become one of the top golfers of his generation.
Mexican American golfer Lee Trevino proved that some of the best golfers are self-taught. After joining the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) tour in 1969, Trevino won many major tournaments, including the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA championship title. Trevino's happy-go-lucky, offbeat persona endeared him to many fans. An optimistic, resourceful man, Trevino grew up in poverty and did not begin competing as a professional until age 27.
Lee Buck Trevino was born in Dallas, Texas, on December 1, 1939, to parents Joseph and Juanita Trevino. He had two sisters and his father left the family at an early age. They lived in four rooms with no running water and no electricity. But with Juanita's pay from her work as a domestic and the help of her father-in-law, Joe Trevino, a grave-digger, the family got by. The house stood in a field and backed up to the fairway of a local Dallas golf course, the Glen Lakes Country Club, and young Lee was fascinated with the world of rolling, finely manicured lawns, spotless putting greens and dapperly clad golfers he saw walking by each day.
Although he was often physically beaten by his grandfather, Trevino was a streetwise kid with an infectious smile and a ready wit who did not resent his family's poverty. Instead, he developed the resourcefulness, drive, and creativity that would characterize his career as a golfer. Using a discarded club cut down to a six-year-old's size, he began developing a golf swing by mimicking what he saw while watching other golfers at a distance. At night he would sneak over the fence and play on the empty course. At age 14 he went to work at Hardy's Driving Range, where he was able to practice his swing with real golf equipment.
Leaving school after seventh grade, Trevino lied about his age and joined the U.S. Marines at 17, serving in Asia from 1956 to 1960 as a machine gunnery sergeant. While in the service, he played golf with the Third Marine Division tournaments in Japan and the Philippines, where he earned a handicap of only four.
Leaving the Marines when his four years were up, he returned to Texas and to Hardy's Pitch-n-Putt, a driving range and par-3 course where he became assistant golf pro. He remained there until 1964, using his off hours to modify his highly original golf swing, and attended the PGA golf school, a requirement for admission to the tour.
Playing golf costs money, even when you work at a course, and the resourceful Trevino soon became known as a hustler, betting golfers that he could defeat them using a soft-drink bottle rather than a regulation golf club. Trevino later cited his hustling as good training for staying calm during professional competitions. As he told Time magazine, "A $5 bet and only $2 in your pocket—that's pressure."
A Self-Taught Swing
Some have described Trevino's golf swing as resembling a baseball batter's. In their book The Masters of Golf: Learning from Their Methods, authors Dick Aultman and Ken Bowden describe his style as "five wrongs" that combine to make "an immaculate right." His stance was open, his grip firm, his shoulders pointing to the left of the point he was aiming for. Standing low over the ball, Trevino reached the top of his swing, his left wrist pushed outward, then he dragged the club down flat to the left. While he battled with a left hook early in his career, he worked for months to counteract it and eventually trained himself to cut the ball to the right.
As his swing improved in accuracy, so did Trevino's reputation among Texas golfers, and with the help of patron Bill Gray, he entered several regional tournaments, including the Texas Open in 1965 and 1966 and the New Mexico Open in 1966. Working as an assistant pro at El Paso's Horizon Hills Country Club, Trevino was earning enough money to support his growing family. He joined the professional tour in 1966 and did well until a discouraging 54th-place finish in the U.S. Open dampened the 26-year-old golfer's aspirations.
Trevino rebounded and returned to the U.S. Open to finish in fifth place in 1967. A total unknown on the national golf circuit, Trevino captured attention with his casual, sunny disposition and his tendency to be unusually talkative in a game that frequently demanded silence.
Leaving his position at Horizon Hills, Trevino officially joined the PGA tour in 1968. Scoring in the 60s in all four rounds at Oak Hill, he tied a record with a score of 275 and beat Jack Nicklaus and Bert Yancey in a touch-and-go finish. He was the first golfer to score under par in all four rounds of the U.S. Open. He earned the PGA Rookie of the Year award and at season's end had official winnings of $125,675 plus endorsements.
With wins at the Amana, Hawaiian and Tucson opens between 1968 and 1969, Trevino continued his winning streak, and in 1969 he gained his first World Cup win. However, 1970 was a different story: over 13 months he entered many tournaments but left without a win.
Trevino rebounded in the spring of 1971. In a playoff round against Nicklaus during the 1971 U.S. Open in Merion, Pennsylvania, Trevino bested him 68-71. That year the PGA named Trevino Player of the Year, one of many awards he would receive for winning the U.S. Open for the second time in four years. Chalking up wins in the British Open and the Canadian Open as well, Trevino became the first to win all three tournaments in a single year; in fact, he won them all in just over three weeks. His second World Cup win was just icing on the cake.
During the early 1970s Trevino was unstoppable, with his second win at the British Open in 1972, and additional victories at the Canadian Open in 1977 and 1979, the Hartford Open in 1972, the Mexican Open in 1973 and 1975, at Colonial National in 1976 and 1978. He won the 1974 World Series of Golf and PGA championships, keeping his name in the news around the world. As a team captain several times throughout the decade and into the mid-1980s, he also gained press for participating in the U.S. Ryder Cup.
Nature Took Aim
By the mid-1970s it seemed as though nothing could stop Trevino, until Mother Nature intervened to slow him down a bit. While out on a golf course in 1975, he was struck by a bolt of lightning, and although he lived to tell—and in typical Trevino fashion, joke—about it, the accident did affect his game. While victories still came Trevino's way, they did not come as easily, and the golfer realized that the problem lay in the way a resulting back problem had altered his golf swing. Adjusting his stance, he aimed less to the right, breaking the unwritten "rules" governing the perfect swing but achieving a championship-winning result.
Trevino won his second PGA championship in 1984, and by the mid-1980s he was one of only three golfers to earn more than three million dollars in tournament prize money. He would laugh about his wealth for years to come, quipping to reporters the oft-quoted comment: "You can make a lot of money in this game. Just ask my ex-wives. Both of them are so rich that neither of their husbands work."
One of Golf's Greatest
Trevino's golfing career was marked by both casual humor and extreme consistency, and he gained a reputation for his proficient swing. On five separate occasions—1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, and 1980—he won the Vardon Trophy, named for British golfer Harry Vardon and awarded each year since 1937 to the touring professional with the lowest stroke average in 60 or more PGA tournament rounds.
Despite his success as a world-class golfer during the 1970s and 1980s, many in the press viewed the down-to-earth Texan as more a showman than a professional athlete. His demeanor was perhaps more unusual in golf than it would be in other sports, because golf had a lengthy history as a sport exclusive to the wealthy and socially refined. However, Trevino reflected a trend that was already under way of golf becoming increasingly popular among younger Americans with time on their hands. "I represent the guy who goes to the driving range, the municipal player, the truck driver, the union man, the guy who grinds it out," he explained to Time.
When watching Trevino play, it was not unusual to see him stick his tongue out at a uncooperative golf ball, don a sombrero, or clown around with his caddy, and such antics quickly gained him a group of fans the press dubbed "Lee's Fleas." Off the green, he also developed a reputation for gambling and carousing with friends into the wee hours. "Why go to bed?," he once told a Time interviewer. "I like to party because I missed lots of nights when I couldn't afford parties." Because of his quick wit and likeable personality, Trevino was an easy choice when NBC Sports went looking for a golf commentator in 1983.
In 1990 52-year-old Trevino joined the Senior PGA tour and surprised no one when he continued the successful run of his PGA days. During his first year he earned more prize money than the money leader of the regular tour and was both Senior Rookie of the Year and Senior Player of the Year.
Continuing to perform well into the mid-1990s, Trevino became PGA Seniors champion in 1994, but a neck injury forced him to start relaxing a bit. Playing a minimum of 20 tournaments a year, he was in the top ten only three times in 2000, and in 2003 was beaten by an amateur in a People vs. the Pros match in Las Vegas. In 2004 on the Champions Tour, Trevino marked his 16th season, 38 seasons total counting back from 1967 when he first joined the PGA Tour. With age taking its toll, he still worked on his swing, but as he told Bill Fields in Golf World, "Usually I go play now and I can tell you how many birds I saw, not how many greens I missed. But it's still a lot of fun."
Trevino married three times and fathered six children. Son Richard Lee, from his first marriage, became a professional golfer. Lesley Ann, Tony Lee, and Troy Liana were from his second marriage to Claudia Lee Fenley, which ended in divorce in early 1983. Trevino wed Claudia Bove, whom he met at the Greater Hartford Open, in December 1983; the couple had two children, Olivia and Daniel.
Part of his role as a golf pro was to help teach others, and Trevino wrote several books about his chosen sport, among them 1971's I Can Help Your Game and Groove Your Golf Swing My Way, published in 1976. His autobiography, They Call Me Super Mex, was published by Random House in 1983. He was also host of the syndicated television program Golf for Swingers and remained with NBC as a commentator into the 1990s. Beginning in 1998 golf enthusiasts could play a nine-hole course of his design located at Mexico's El Cid Resort.
Community-minded, Trevino traditionally donated a portion of his winnings to charities. He also served as National Christmas Seal Sports Ambassador in 1971 and was a member of the President's Conference on Physical Fitness and Sports and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society sports committee. Although he lived for several years in Florida at the height of his career, Trevino eventually returned to his Texas roots. He and his family owned a large home only three miles from where the humble, four-room Trevino homestead of his boyhood once stood.
Aultman, Dick, and Ken Bowden, The Masters of Golf: Learning from Their Methods, Galahad Books, 1994.
Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996.
Jackson, Robert M., Supermex: The Lee Trevino Story, Hill & Wang, 1973.
Trevino, Lee, with Oscar Fraley, I Can Help Your Game, Fawcett, 1971.
Trevino, Lee, with Sam Blair, They Call Me Super Mex, Random House, 1983.
—The Snake in the Sandtrap, and Other Misadventures on the Golf Tour, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1985.
Golf World, January 19, 2001; July 12, 2002.
Sports Illustrated, December 31, 1971; March 31, 1980; December 4, 2000; December 10, 2001.
Time, July 19, 1971.
"Golf Legend Talks about Favorite Course, Best Shot and His 50-Year-Old Putter," http://golf.about.com/cs/legendsofgolf/a/trevinoqanda.htm (June 2, 2004).