Lee Trevino took so little time preparing for his next shot and spent so much time firing jokes towards his gallery that he was called “a television producer’s nightmare” during his decades on the PGA Tour. Things apparently haven’t changed much, as those in attendance at the San Gabriel Valley Council of the Boy Scouts of America’s celebrity sports breakfast would certainly attest. With Annandale Country Club serving as the most appropriate backdrop, Trevino – keynote speaker at the event – accompanied the hundreds in attendance on a philosophical journey that had as many ups and downs as, well, a round of golf.
If there was a diagnosis for attention deficit disorder when the man once known as ‘Merry Mex’ attended school in West Texas, Trevino would be the poster child, so quickly did his mind race from one subject to the next, mouth in tow.
“My son, who is an Eagle Scout, goes to USC,” Trevino explained as soon as he was brought to the podium by emcee and Gold medalist John Naber. “[Pasadena resident and USC business school dean] Jim Ellis is his boss and he told me I had to do this.”
Ellis himself gasped at that one, but Trevino was just getting off the first tee, so to speak, of his rapid-fire address.
“Being an Eagle Scout will open doors for you,” he said. “When we were applying for college, the one thing admissions officers always commented upon was the fact my son had achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.”
Like many parents before him, Trevino commented that a little nudge towards completing the Eagle project when his son reached “girl” age. Interest in girls…
One of the most popular athletes in American history almost wasn’t, and Trevino explained how another friendly nudge got him moving in the right direction.
“I had dropped out of school and was hanging out with some bad guys,” Trevino explained. “One day we ‘borrowed’ a set of hubcaps. The next day, I was pulled over by a police officer. The cop gave me the address of the car’s owner, then told me to join the service. I did.”
Enlisting in the Marine Corps, Trevino quipped that his diminutive stature worked to his advantage because while carrying a heavy machine gun, he was able to “get it on the ground faster than everyone else.”
Back mowing fairways at a local golf course, he was approached by the owner who asked “is this what you are going to do for the rest of your life?”
“He also told me that ‘potential means you haven’t done it yet.’ For the next four years, I never went a single day without hitting at least a thousand golf balls” and the rest is golf history.
Trevino mentioned his magical year of 1971 when he won at Muirfield, Oak Hill and Merion, including a Monday playoff win at the U.S. Open. Addressing the assembled media before the 18-hole match against Jack Nicklaus, Trevino said “I’m sure you have your headlines written and you’re just waiting for the score, but I just might surprise you.”
He did, winning 68 to 71.
The tone of his presentation quickly changed when he related the experience of being hit by lightning while playing the 1975 Western Open outside Chicago. Trevino suffered a severe back injury, which limited his mobility as well as his tour victories. Over the years, however, Trevino was able to equal his PGA Tour win total, 29, on what is now known as the Champions Tour, where he has also won 29 times.
On the difference between the PGA Tour then and now: “They have orange juice in the locker room now. We didn’t train. Gary Player was the only guy who trained and we thought he was nuts.”
On Tiger Woods: “I hate to say it, but I predicted Tiger would hurt his left knee due to the way he swings the club. Guys these days use their core [stomach] muscles and lock the left knee. But he is a tremendous athlete.”
On the technological improvements of golf equipment: “What the hell did I know what my ball speed was? It’s real simple: the ball doesn’t move. But I will say that the improvement in technology that has made the biggest impact on the game is – the mower. Everything else is comparatively the same, but the greens and fairways are in such better shape these days. In the old days on some of these courses, the rough was so long you would lose your bag if you set it down to look for your ball.”
On playing the game: “Learn to hit the driver straight, not necessarily long. You can’t play out of someone’s swimming pool. Learn to hit the wedge. That is your most valuable tool. And forget trying to find the perfect putter. Learn the system. Learn the technique. It’s always the indian, not the arrow. Pay attention to your short game. How come you pass by the driving range and you see everyone hitting driver and nobody down there on the putting green, or chipping?
Trevino said he still plays every day – “but from the front tees, I can’t hit it very far.” He then became nostalgic and returned to that fateful day when lightning struck – literally.
“I actually saw the other side,” he said as the room drew completely silent, save the rush hour traffic buzzing by on the 134 Freeway. “He had too many pros up there and I had to come back. But it was the greatest feeling I ever had. Warm. Quiet. Gratifying. I love it and I’m going to face that guy again some day.”
As the audience rose in approval, Trevino was ushered to another area where he raised extra funds for the Boy Scouts at a meet-and-greet. later, three bidders were able to play eighteen holes with Trevino.
No lightning seen in the area.
A storm of laughter heard…
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