Lee Trevino, professional golf’s ultimate showman and straight shooter on the course and off, transcended his impoverished North Texas background to become one of golf’s most memorable and enduring figures.
The self-described Merry Mex or Supermex, won six major golf championships, two each for the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA, his last coming at age 44. With 29 regular Tour victories including the first to win three countries’ national Opens — U.S., British and Canadian — in four weeks of the same year.
Trevino went on to win 29 times on the PGA Tour Champions where his loud, outgoing, charismatic personality made him one of the tour's first superstars and set the standard for success still enjoyed decades later.
So he’s not about to let a little thing like his 82nd birthday in December slow him down from his regular trips to the golf course to tell stories, have lunch and play the game he learned as a taped-up, Dr. Pepper bottle-wielding hustler at Tenison Park in Dallas. He recently played in the PNC Championship and found time to give a golf range tip to Charlie Woods while his father, Tiger, looked on.
Over the holidays, Trevino spent time talking about life on the back nine of his unmatched golfing journey, what he and friend Gary Player have over Jack Nicklaus and the greatest shot makers in the game.
SI/Morning Read: Lee, you’re one of the rare professional golfers who still loves the game and plays it as much as possible, is that still the case at age 82?
Lee Trevino: I don’t play as much golf as I used to, but I hit balls and chip and putt every day to stay sharp. People still want me to play, so I want to stay sharp so I can still perform. I played nine days in a row with my guys at Bighorn Palm Desert last month. It was great, but I had to stay in bed three days in a row to recover when I got home (laughs).
SI/MR: Why do you play so much when your other contemporaries have retired are enjoying their golf-earned success or moved on to something else?
Trevino: Golf is the life for me. That’s the only thing I know. I think that’s one thing me and Gary have over Jack. He likes to design courses, go fishing and flying, but golf is still my career. I can still hit balls and play. I still do about 10 outings a year and still play at my courses here in Dallas.
SI/MR: Has it always been that way for you?
Trevino: When I started out playing, all I wanted was to make more money to buy more beer and drive nicer cars. Now, I don’t drink. I haven’t for years, and I have a nice car to drive. I tried TV (broadcasting) for a while, but that wasn’t for me. There was too much time sitting around, and I didn’t need that. I needed golf.
SI/MR: Is there another pro golfer out there who will always play golf into their 80s?
Trevino: Phil [Mickelson] will play forever like me. He loves to play the game. Tiger would do it, but his physical ability won’t let him.
SI/MR: On almost every list of the great ball-strikers in golf history, you’re there somewhere. Who’s the greatest ball striker you ever saw?
Trevino: There is no doubt, the best of all time is Sam Snead. He had such a smooth rhythm, it was incredible to watch. I never saw Bobby Jones play, but I’ve watched him on film and it was really smooth. I’ll give you another one, probably one you don’t know, Howie Johnson. He was a really great iron player, but never won much, because he didn’t have the total package. Same for Moe Norman.
SI/MR: What about you?
Trevino: I was OK. I tell you when I was getting ready for the Open Championship, I would go out on the range and practice my low shot and my straight shots. I could hit the ball down the middle of the highway if I had to and make it stop.
SI/MR: Any players today who can do that?
Trevino: Today it’s a power game, there is no finesse. It’s trying to see how far you can hit it. You look at the top 20 money winners and they’re all ball strikers. They all hit it 350 yards and a wedge to the green. You don’t need to be a great ball striker for that.
SI/MR: Do you still interact with the many North Texas PGA Tour players?
Trevino: I see [Jordan] Spieth and [Will] Zalatoris all the time, and they’re the nicest guys, always coming up to me to see how I’m doing or what I’m working on the range. One guy I’m afraid for here is Bryson [DeChambeau]. I’m afraid that violent turn and smash won’t last for another 10 years. Maybe he’s figured it out. I don’t know how his body will take it long term. It’s like a fine car, if you drive it at a high speed all the time, it’s not going to last. You need to take it easy and baby it some. I hope he knows how to do it.
SI/MR: Is there a current young PGA Tour player you like watching?
Trevino: One player I would really keep my eye on if I was you is Viktor Hovland. I like his swing and really like his demeanor. If you’re watching him, you can’t tell if he’s just made a double bogey or a birdie, he has the same determined look and goes about his business. He reminds me of the Arnie-like determination. He’s going to play and there’s not a darn thing you can do about it. I really like his game.
SI/MR: Could there ever be another Lee Trevino rise up from humble beginnings to conquer the golf world like you did?
Trevino: It would be hard. You would need a tremendous amount of talent, and to be discovered somewhere and be able to go to college on a full ride. It would be a full time life experience. That’s what the First Tee was supposed to produce, but I don’t think there is anybody on the PGA Tour now from the First Tee. You have great people with great life skills, but not great players. You have to work and practice all the time.
SI/MR: You have an older son who is the general manager of a local country club, a younger one working in your promotional business and a wife who still likes to play, so do you ever have a Trevino family match?
Trevino: I played with [wife] Claudia in Palm Springs recently. We played from her tees, so we could be together. I only hit irons and gave her a shot a hole, she shot 42 and beat my ass, so that’s how my game is going. (laughs). I get up every day, grateful for life, happy to play golf. If I get in nine holes or 18 or just chip or putt, I’m happy.