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ImagineGolfClub gets a rare one-to-one with golfing legend Lee Trevino
Posted Apr 28, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece
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US officials are looking to Fred Couples as a saviour of their Champions Tour after three successive victories already this year. But ol' Fred has some way to go before matching Hale Irwin, who had 20 victories in his first three and a half years as a senior. And in terms of public appeal, there has been nobody to rival that of Lee Trevino when he hit the tour in earnest at the start of 1990.
With seven victories that year, Trevino became the first senior golfer to top $1 million in prize money in one season. And he also set a record stroke-average of 68.89, which stood for eight years before Irwin surpassed it with 68.59. Then, of course, there was the remarkable charisma of Supermex who delighted attendances with non-stop patter and an irrepressible sense of fun.
Both were still very much in evidence when I met him last week at the 2010 Liberty Mutual Legends Tournament in Savannah, where he competed in the Demaret Division for over-70s, a milestone he reached last December. In an instant, groups of people gathered around him when he started chatting.
Noticing that a young woman was eyeing him rather curiously, he couldn't resist remarking mischievously: "Oh you don't have to worry about me. My wife allowed me only one pill for the week."
Recalling his lone challenge in the Irish Open at Royal Dublin in 1985, he talked of his poor putting in an opening 78. "I had 36 putts and when I came off the 18th, I saw this reverend gentleman standing there," he said. "'Do you play golf, sir,' I enquired. And when he replied 'I do', I said 'Good, you can have this new Tommy Armour putter.' You could buy a new car with that putter today."
Aware of his great friendship with Seve Ballesteros, I asked how he felt about the conquistador's battle for survival after surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his brain. "I'm very sad for him," said Trevino. "I was the last to play with him when he came into the seniors here in Birmingham (Alabama) three years ago (the 2007 Regions Charity Classic). And I have to say he didn't play extremely well. In fact he played probably as bad as I've ever seen him play. Little did we know he had a brain tumour. That was the reason he was so erratic with his shots."
This was the player of whom he had said two decades earlier: "Every generation or so there emerges a golfer who is a little bit better than anybody else. I believe Ballesteros is one of them. On a golf course he's got everything. I mean everything: touch, power, know-how, courage and charisma."
Now, Trevino was recalling a very different man. "When Seve went back home after that Birmingham tournament and there was a tragedy involving his girlfriend, I then heard he had a brain tumour," he went on. "I lost my mother-in-law with a brain tumour and my wife and I were very concerned because that's the one place where cancer is very difficult to overcome.
"But I'll tell you one thing about Seve. He's held on a helluva lot longer than most people with that type of cancer. It tells you what type of a fighter he is. He was always a magician on the golf course. I remember the one-club match I played against him at St Andrews. He grew up like I did with one golf club on the beach at Pedrena. I had a four iron and he had a five iron. And he beat me.
"St Andrews is a very easy course if you keep it out of the bunkers. It's a very easy course to play with one club because you can bump and run everywhere. But if you get in a bunker you've got to pretend it's a hand-grenade and you throw it out. You holler 'fore!' then everyone ducks and you throw it out." That last remark drew hearty laughter from what by then had become a sizeable audience. Of course the truth is that he and Ballesteros were so skillful that they had no problem in escaping from the deepest bunkers, even with relatively straight-faced clubs.
When I asked if he planned to go to the Old Course in July to celebrate 150 years of the Open, he replied: "Listen, I'm 70. I won't be going anywhere but home. I've had enough. For 44 years I travelled all over the world; all over this country. And I haven't seen a damned thing." Presumably he was invited. "Listen, I've got old girlfriends who still invite me," he replied. "And the only reason I don't go is because they all have blue hair. And they don't have their own teeth. I don't mess with girls who don't have their own teeth."
Then suddenly he exclaimed: "Gotta run." And he was gone. But laughter remained.