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“Mr. Trevino and Mr. Nicklaus”

From a 1980 profile of Lee Trevino

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Mr. Trevino and Mr. Nicklaus

Editor’s note: This is one of several Herbert Warren Wind excerpts selected by author Bradley Klein to accompany his Wind profile, “Forever in Tweed, Amen,” as featured in TGJ No. 13.

July 14, 1980

Let us retrace our steps a bit. One of the most important stretches of Trevino’s life is the period we know least about—the years between his return home from the service at the end of 1960 and his sudden explosion on the national golf scene in 1967. Soon after getting back to Dallas and reestablishing his ties with Hardy Greenwood’s driving range and par-3 course, he turned professional and joined the Professional Golfers Association. He quickly fell into a daily regimen. He would rise before daybreak and arrive at Tenison Park, a public golf course, at around five. Tenison Park received a lot of play, but at that early hour it was empty, and Trevino, if he wished, could whirl around the eighteen holes in no time at all. Other mornings, if he had a match lined up—and he often did, since Tenison Park was a harbor for hustlers—he would play a few holes before the match to get warmed up for his morning’s work. He nearly always wore Bermuda shorts, and as often as not he played barefoot. When his practice round or his match was over, he would move to the practice tee and hit dozens and dozens of balls. After that, he would take a shower, put on his work clothes (slacks and a golf shirt), and drive to Hardy’s. He began work there at two in the afternoon and closed the place down between eleven and midnight. He alternated between its two facilities: one day he would run the driving range and the next day the par-3. During slow afternoons, he hit out more balls. Trevino estimates that during those years he had a golf club in his hands an average of fifteen hours a day. It is unlikely that any other golfer in the country in the nineteen-sixties practiced as hard or as long. By 1965, when he won the state open championship, he was probably a good enough golfer to have made it on the P.G.A. tour, but personal problems prevented him from taking that step. In any event, he was very much at home at Tenison Park and was prospering to some degree from his matches there. He was also able to augment his salary from Hardy’s by playing matches on the par-3 course. His chief difficulty was that he had become so expert at pitching and putting on that familiar terrain that it wasn’t easy to get people to play him. Finally, after running out of even those customers who were willing to take him on provided he play right-handed with left-handed clubs, he hit upon a gimmick that, once he was firmly ensconced in the big time, received reams of publicity. His new specialty involved the use of a twenty-six-ounce Dr Pepper bottle—made of very heavy glass—which he wrapped with adhesive tape, so that it would not shatter when he hit a golf ball with it. Wearing a glove on his right hand, he held the bottle at the neck, tossed the ball in the air, and batted the ball with the big end of the bottle. He practiced with the bottle almost as much as he did with his regular clubs. After a while, he could flight the ball in the proper arc for a golf shot, and he could also hit it 120 yards—the length of the longest hole on the par-3 course. He putted billiards style, with the neck. Trevino’s average score for nine holes with the bottle was 29 or 30—two or three strokes above par. He was able to persuade his opponents to give him half a stroke a hole, which meant that if he tied them on a hole they lost it. The stakes generally were fifty cents or a dollar a hole. He accepted all challenges for over three years and never lost a match with the bottle.