Los Angeles — Johnny Miller won this year's Los Angeles Open with a record 14-under-par 270 , but the guy who gave everybody a piece of his personality and a hundred chuckles to take home with them was Lee Trevino, who never stopped talking.
When Trevino came out of nowhere to win his first US Open in 1968, the phrase most people used to describe his victory was "gigantic fluke." How could a paunchy guy with a flat swing, who perfected his game while a US Marines sergeant on Okinawa, play better than Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus?
Technically, everybody sized things up correctly; you wouldn't find Lee's swing in a golf book. But he taught himself to take the clubhead back to the top and lock it, correct what is negative at the point of impact by shifting his body and hands, and swing through the ball.
"I haven't changed since I began playing the pro tour in 1967," Trevino told reporters during the LA Open. "I'm the same guy. I love to leave 'em laughing. Of course at first nobody laughed. They just wondered who the crazy Mexican was with the motor mouth and the funny clubs. But after I won the US Open in '68, they loved my one-liners."
Although Trevino has gained special, though folksy, smoothness from being interviewed so often on national television, the man in the street still tends to identify with him because so much has been written about his dirt-poor background. Lee may be the first guy ever born with a plastic spoon in his mouth.
Trevino was raised in the rural outskirts of Dallas by his mother and maternal grandfather. The small frame house they lived in had neither electricity nor running water, but it did stand in a hayfield next to the seventh fairway of the Glen Lakes Country Club.
When "Supermex" quit school after the seventh grade to go to work for the Glen Lakes greenskeeper, it was because his family, which also included two sisters, needed more money than his grandfather could make as a gravedigger. Lee also earned extra cash as a caddie, was curious enough about golf to play a few holes while the sun was still swimming on the horizon, but really didn't get serious about the game until after he joined the Marines.
When his service unit announced tryouts for its division golf team in 1959, Trevino couldn't sign up fast enough. It was just what he needed -- the chance to hone his game by playing regularly. During the next two years he competed in tournaments all over Japan, Formosa, and the Philippines.
Among the keys to Lee's game are that he reportedly remembers every shot he ever took and what made it good or bad; that he almost always plays the percentages; and that his putting touch is among the best on the tour.
"If a young player were to ask me for advice, the first thing I'd tell him is to build a putting green in his backyard," Trevino said. "Then I'd tell him to spend as much time there as he possibly can, because that's where you make the dough -- by making sure the ball goes in the cup.
"There was a time when I used to change putters every day," he continued. "I was always looking for a club that would give me perfect balance. But after 13 years I finally decided it's the man and not the club. Because of a back problem I haven't been able to practice my putting as much as I used to and this has made a difference sometimes in my game."
Although Trevino has taken more than $2 million out of golf (the second to do so after Jack Nicklaus), few pros have ever given more of themselves back to the game. Lee, in his dealings with the press, the public, and tournament sponsors has always acted in a first-class manner.
Those who criticize Trevino's game almost always start with an analysis of his flat swing, which limits some of the things a golfer is supposed to be able to do, like not being able to lift a ball high enough when it's in the rough. On the other hand, Lee is such a great planner that he always seems to know what he's doing.
Despite the sideshow Trevino puts on for crowds with his wisecracks and body language, he has the concentration of a watchmaker for the short time it takes him to take a club and make the shot. His 25 tournament victories include the Us and British Opens twice, and the PGA championship once.