World Golf Hall of Fame Lee Trevino, Now 81, Passionate as Ever for Golf
Lee Trevino might have been an engaging, welcome personality on the PGA TOUR to its passionate fanbase. But that wasn’t the impression Trevino got from at least one of his fellow competitors.
“There was a guy I never got along with very well, a pro, who was OK but didn’t seem to like me,” Trevino recalled. “I don’t know what his problem was, because I never bothered him.”
The Woodlands, Texas - May 04: Golfing legend Lee Trevino signs autographs for fans after playing in the '3M Greats of Golf' at the Insperity Invitational at The Woodlands Country Club on May 04, 2019 in The Woodlands, Texas. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
So Imagine Trevino’s surprise when the unnamed player approached him from two fairways over during a practice round prior to the 1971 Cleveland Open. A week earlier, Trevino made waves by winning his second major championship at the U.S. Open, beating the legendary Jack Nicklaus by four strokes in an 18-hole playoff.
What the player was about to say to Trevino was anyone’s guess.
“He walked over two fairways to shake my hand and hug me,” Trevino said, laughing. “He said, ‘We finally got somebody that can beat him.’”
It didn’t matter that Trevino had a darker skin complexion than most of his peers, or that his Hispanic last name—the surname Trevino traces its origins to Spain—always stood out on a leaderboard.
What mattered instead was the respect Trevino earned on the golf course. Beating the revered Nicklaus—in a major championship for the second time, no less—was a monumental achievement worthy of respect. Anything else was irrelevant.
The Woodlands, Texas - May 04: Golfing legend Lee Trevino waves as he is introduced during the '3M Greats of Golf' at the Insperity Invitational at The Woodlands Country Club on May 04, 2019 in The Woodlands, Texas. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
“When he walked away, I got to thinking about what he said,” Trevino said. “I thought, ‘You know what? I’m finally one of the boys.’ I got very comfortable being out there.”
Trevino would go on to win 29 times in total on the PGA TOUR, including six major championships, to cement his status in the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1981. More importantly, Trevino, nicknamed “SuperMex,” became an inspiration to point toward for other minorities looking for their own entry into golf.
That message endures today, as Trevino, now 81 years old and living in Jupiter, Florida, continues to be outspoken about growing the sport at the junior levels. He desperately wants youth programs such as the First Tee to find unlimited, free access to golf courses throughout the country.
“The only thing that I can do now is be vocal about it, which I’ve been,” Trevino said. “They can be done right. It would be extremely successful if they had their own golf courses, whether it’s nine holes or 18, and their own driving range when they can hit whenever they want to.”
“I would have mowed it and had it out there to let these kids play on all day,” he continued. “Cow pasture pool is what we called it. That’s how I learned to play, in the middle of a field.”
Trevino’s passion for the game is evident in his voice, even all these years later. He jokes that people can set a watch to his morning routine, which still includes two hours of daily practice time on the range.
He and his wife, Claudia, have largely been locked down inside their Jupiter residence since the covid-19 pandemic began.
That’s meant more time for Trevino to find his swing speed again.
“It’s instilled in you. it’s just a disease, really,” he said. “If you really love this game, it’s like drugs. I’ve been in this house now since the pandemic hit, but I’ve got a beautiful home with a big gymnasium and the whole thing. So I don’t go anywhere. I’ve got the greatest cook in the world (in Claudia).
“I’m working on some swing speed, and I’ve got some rubber bands, balls and weighted clubs. I’m going to end up killing myself!”
The increased time at home has also given Trevino more opportunities to watch the growing Latin American contingent on the PGA TOUR. Three Latinos— Joaquín Niemann, Sebastián Muñoz and Mexico’s Abraham Ancer—qualified for the season-ending TOUR Championship this year.
Niemann and Muñoz both claimed victories this time a year ago, and Ancer announced himself as a competitor worth monitoring when he became a key cog in the International Team’s near upset of the United States at last season’s Presidents Cup.
“They’re doing extremely well,” Trevino said. “As a matter of fact, Carlos Ortiz (of Mexico), I just saw him the other day. Sebastián is doing extremely well, too.
“Ancer? Fantastic. Not a big guy, but extremely talented short game. He figured out that he wasn’t a bomber, so he was going to kill them someplace else. That’s what I did. I wasn’t a bomber but I was a heck of a wedge player and could putt a little bit. You can bring the guys down if you’ve got some tricks somewhere else.”
Lee Trevino is as dialed in as ever on the game of golf. And that’s a good thing for all of us.
“My personality came from serving people,” Trevino said. “Every job I ever had I was serving someone. That’s what we were taught to do, and it’s never changed. I love people.”