LEE'S FLEAS CHEER 'SUPER MEX' TO VICTORY
Super Mex is what he called himself. Super Mexkin. And there he was out there in the midst of all of that U.S. Open dignity with his spread-out caddie-hustler stance and his short, choppy public-course swing, a stumpy little guy, tan as the inside of a tamale, pretty lippy for a nobody, and, yeah, wearing those red socks. And here were all of these yells coming from the trees and the knolls of the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, coming from all of the other Lee Trevinos of the world. "Whip the gringo," hollered Lee's Fleas, a band of instant Mexicans enthusiastic enough to rival anybody's army, some of them $30-a-week guys like Trevino himself was just a little more than a year ago.
Lee Trevino whipped all of the gringos last week. He mainly whipped a gringo named Bert Yancey, the tournament leader for the first three days, in a head-to-head, you-and-me thing on the final day, the kind of match a hustler really likes; but in so doing, he knocked off everything else in Rochester, including a good golf course, a strong field, a couple of USGA records that looked untouchable, and a $30,000 check.
What Lee Trevino really did, when he won the Open championship last Sunday, however, was shoot more life into the game of golf than it has had since Arnold Palmer, whoever that is, came along. Trevino will not only go out and fight a course for you in the most colorful of ways, he'll say most anything to most anybody. He'll hot dog it. He'll gagline it. And he'll respond. In a gang-some of 30 or 40 visor-gripping Bert Yanceys, most of whom seem to have graduated from the yep-and-nope school of public relations, Lee Trevino had already made himself known to a degree. He had received more pretournament press than anyone simply because he talked a lot and said things like, "I used to be a Mexkin. but I'm makin' money now so I'm gonna be a Spaniard." Well, now, you take this kind of a fellow and give him a major championship and what you've got is instant celebrity.
June 23, 1968
It all happened in one day, actually, but that is all it ever takes. It happened on Sunday, the last day of the Open, when Trevino went out and did what no one thought he could do—turn Bert Yancey's game into a shambles, one on one, and totally ignore the near presence of Jack Nicklaus. Trevino did it although he had not won an event on the PGA tour, and, in fact, had only been on the tour for a short while—a couple of months last summer and all this season. Which is not so long, especially for a man who has not had a lifelong acquaintance with money. In winning, Trevino further had the audacity to tie Nicklaus' 72-hole 1967 Open record of 275 and set a record of his own by becoming the first player ever to shoot four straight rounds under par in an Open: 69, 68, 69 and 69.
The last round began with Yancey leading at 205, Trevino second, a stroke behind, and Nicklaus a distant third at 212. Yancey and Trevino started off as if they were playing for the Tenison Park municipal title in Dallas, which is a place where Lee used to hustle $5 Nassaus and where the U.S. Public Links tournament will be played in July. Yancey drove into the right rough, and Lee hit into the left trap, and they both made bogeys. Trevino steadied a trifle, but Yancey kept it up. He hit a big hook at the 3rd under a tree, chipped up nicely but missed the five-footer for his par. At the 5th he hit into a bunker, came out to within three feet but missed again. At this point he had lost the lead for the first time since Thursday afternoon. Trevino was one ahead, and Nicklaus, who had birdied the 3rd and 4th up ahead, was only three strokes away.
One more birdie right in there somewhere could have made a gigantic difference for Nicklaus, but he had already demonstrated in three previous rounds that he couldn't read consistently the subtleties of Oak Hill's greens. Hit the shots, sure. Nicklaus was hitting more greens in regulation than anyone; he was, in fact, playing superbly. But never did the putts fall, and they weren't to fall the rest of the day. Makable birdie after makable birdie slid past the holes, and a great amount of pressure was taken off Trevino.
On each hole Trevino could look ahead and see that Nicklaus wasn't catching fire, and on each hole he could look over in the woods or in the bunkers or around the cups where poor Bert Yancey's game had gone thataway. ("I guess I just must have choked," Yancey said later.) Bert was plodding dismally to the 76 that most people in the gallery would have bet their periscopes that Trevino would shoot.
If there was a big hole that wrapped it all up it was the 12th. They got there with Trevino having just birdied the 11th with his longest putt of the tournament, a 30-footer, and with the noise and joy of it still ringing in him. The crowd sensed he was the winner now. He had a three-shot lead, and he played this comparatively short par-4 nicely with a good drive and a pitch into the flag, only 18 feet away. He rammed this one down to go one under for the round—and four great big strokes ahead of Yancey and five in front of Nicklaus. It was, as a matter of fact, all over, even though Lee had to slash out of the rough on the last two holes to save a couple of pars and the record.
"I was tryin' to get so far ahead I could choke and still win," Trevino said afterward. And then he started firing all of those lines that made the press tent roll with laughter, and made him everybody's darling.
"I haven't got no shirts and shoes and cap contracts like the big-timers do," Lee Trevino said.
And: "Yeah, I been married before, but I get rid of 'em when they turn 21."
And: "When I first started winnin' those $3,000 and $4,000 checks last summer, I said, 'Say, how long's this been goin' on out here?' "
And: "Man, I like to go to the dog track over in Juarez. I been feedin' them dogs for years and they don't get no faster."
And: "Yeah, you got to speak Mexkin in El Paso. Man, you can't even buy gas if you can't speak Mexkin."
And, finally, after an overdue pause for breath: "No, I haven't called my wife, but if I don't have the $30,000 check there by Wednesday, she'll call me."
As Super Mex laid it out there for his new band of worshipers, over in the corner stood a hefty, medium-size fellow with short curly hair. Name of Bucky Woy. Bucky Woy is a manager like Mark McCormack is a manager, only it is Bucky Woy who is advising the Open champion, Lee Trevino, and the Masters champion, Bob Goalby, and it was Bucky Woy who was throwing a tequila party up at the Oak Hill club house after the Open Sunday night, where the new champion talked nonstop on such matters as hitting a wedge left-handed and the value of practicing on a pitch-and-putt course. Woy also invited everybody over to the Blue Sombrero for a Lee Trevino party. Tony Lema had champagne. Lee Trevino has margaritas. And golf has a brand-new guy.
There were really three unusual pairings for that last round, the best of which, of course, was Trevino-Yancey, who were playing their own tournament. But there was also one with Bob Goalby and Roberto De Vicenzo, which naturally led everyone into the same joke trap: Oak Hill will settle the Open and the Masters. Finally, there was another. Arnold Palmer, who had been posting all sorts of psychedelic scores, found himself in the very last insulting group with a couple of amateurs. One was Jack Lewis from Wake Forest, the other 18-year-old Jim Simons from the vicinity of Palmer's Latrobe. Palmer, it could thus be said, was only playing for two things: the Wake Forest Alumni Championship and the West Penn Open. He won the latter and lost the former, finishing with twin double bogeys to let Jack Lewis beat him 74 to 75.
Palmer, who still drew the big crowds, finished his catastrophic Open at 301 in 59th place. Except for Nicklaus' last round of 67, which lugged Jack up into second place past the collapsed Yancey, it was not a very good Open for golf's so-called Big Three. Gary Player, the other member, started with a 76 and closed his performance by falling into a creek on the 10th hole and swimming to a 73. Palmer and Player were bypassed by hordes of strange competitors. Not the least of them were Steve Spray, who shot a final-round 65, which included a record-tying 30 on the back nine, to tie for fifth, and two club pros, Don Bies, who tied Spray for fifth, and Jerry Pittman, who tied for seventh. Inasmuch as Pittman is the pro at USGA Executive Director Joe Dey's club in Locust Valley, N.Y. the possibility of a Pittman victory made the mind envision a glorious headline: JOE DEY'S PRO WINS OPEN.
Nor was this year's Open an especially good one for the other past champions in the field. Billy Casper came to Rochester as the favorite, winner of four tournaments and more than $100,000. But after a 75 on the first round, during which he strained his back, he was never really in contention. Julius Boros, curiously, had a 71 on each of the first three days, just as he had at Oak Hill in the 1956 Open, when he tied for second. But on the final round he shot a 75 instead of a 69 and finished in a tie for 16th. And Ken Venturi, the winner at Congressional in 1964, did not even make the cut.
As for Palmer, he did nothing right, except begin the tournament with a birdie. He drove badly, hit irons sideways, recovered miserably, putted atrociously, and, worst of all, gave up. On one particular day he had five putters on the practice green, and seemed to be asking everyone, including itinerant concession salesmen, what to do about his ills. Anyone who saw Palmer with his five putters and happened to read the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle the next day must have been confused. There, prominently displayed, was one of those syndicated instruction articles by Arnold Palmer with a headline that said: YOU'RE ON FAST GREEN? 'TAP' METHOD'S BEST.
De Vicenzo managed to win the "playoff" for the Masters by outscoring Goalby, 70 to 73, but Goal-by was mad about the pairing before they ever teed off. "I walk on the first tee and I get two claps," he said. "What do people expect of me? Roberto and I have played together maybe a hundred times in our lives, and people got to make something out of this. I won under the rules of golf, that's all I know. Anyhow, it's not so good to win if you got to spend all your time at department stores. My game's going sour with appearances."
The first day of an Open, much of it at least, is nearly always dominated by players who seem like brand-new guys. They have names like John Felus, or Steve Spray, or Ronnie Reif. There are, after all, 150 men in the field who begin teeing off at 7:30 a.m. So up until a point well into the afternoon, the leader boards at Oak Hill looked like the Rochester yellow pages—classification, plumbing fixtures. All sorts of unlikely souls were in red figures (for below par), at least briefly, while the big names shadowboxed the course. None, however, trudged along under the gray clouds and through the chill winds of Thursday quite so dramatically, or as bewilderedly, as John Felus.
He was a little man from somewhere in Pennsylvania, scarcely five feet tall, who wore the color scheme of any unknown. Light blue cap, uncertain, semi-lost expression. In the scant gallery that he drew, he was called "foul-us," and "fool-us" and "fail-us." No one knew which was he in his pairing with Billy Farrell and Jim Dolan; who could? It was only after he hit a short iron into the 13th green to within one foot of the pin and sank it to go two under par that people knew. The standard-bearer put a red 2 beside Felus, the guy who made the birdie. Felus was the little guy dressed like your neighbor in the yard; not the two tall guys with golf swings. So he went to the 14th tee with the red 2.
Felus took a big cut at the ball off the 14th tee and drove down the middle, about an eight-iron from the green. He mis-hit the approach altogether but it bounced between two silica bunkers and miraculously rolled up to 2½ feet of the cup. His putt never even hit the cup because John Feluses are not supposed to be two-under in the Open, much less three. Unsteady pars on the next two holes sent Thursday's early hero to the 17th tee with the U.S. Open lead in his tiny hands and only Yancey, Trevino and Al Balding behind him in red figures. Was John Felus going to lead this Open? Could John Felus win the Open? The questions were soon answered. Felus drove off of the 17th tee like Uncle Andrew in the onion patch—or like a man leading the Open. He sliced. He sliced about 100 yards into the rough of another fairway, behind trees, bushes, TV trucks and telephone company equipment. He got a free drop, which was lucky. But he then hit a fairway wood into a hot-dog stand to the right of the 17th green.
A lot of journalists had rushed out on the course now to find John Felus. When they reached the hot-dog stand, they wanted a beer and a frank and, for a moment, some of them thought all of these people standing around the refreshment area, including the little man in the green shirt and gold sweater, were waiting in line for mustard. Presently Felus got another free drop, scraped a chip shot and got out of his dilemma with a bogey. He was still one-under and still leading. But he promptly hit another high, raging slice off the 18th tee, and everybody left him. John Felus had come and gone in the 1968 Open, and it was time to turn to Bert Yancey.
For three rounds Yancey played about as well as a man can play. He practically made a joke of Oak Hill with his carefully laced tee shots, his crisp irons and a putter that is known as the best on the pro tour. He came along a few holes behind John Felus the first day to rap in birdies on the 16th and 18th holes for a three-under-par 67, and the opening round lead, two strokes ahead of Trevino.
A player of even tempo who walks along slowly, wears a wristwatch, keeps a pencil behind his right ear and always has a white visor on, Yancey was spectacular with his irons. And he had a game plan: shoot for the middle of the greens and don't make a double bogey. When he got into difficulty with a couple of erring tee shots the second day, he wisely chipped out, then played up and relied on his smooth putting stroke to rescue him. It did. He turned a 74 into a 68, and his total of 135 tied the U.S. Open record for 36 holes, a record set in 1960 at Cherry Hills by Mike Souchak. Trevino, with his own 68, remained in second, two strokes behind.
A rather colorless fellow who casts the image that he's only plugging along out there, Yancey took a moment out on Friday to worry about the public. After an interview he went up to Doc Giffin, the press secretary for Arnold Palmer, and asked, "How was I? Did I sound better? Did I sound O.K.?"
Well, he wasn't Don Rickles, of course. Most of Bert Yancey's color is in a beautiful swing—and in his background. He is a deep, moody-looking, often vague fellow who once had a nervous breakdown while he was enrolled at West Point. All he remembers is that one day he blacked out and wound up in a hospital for nine months and finally got a medical discharge. He was all right. During the next three years he went back to college at Florida State, took a club job, got married, had a kid, and went on the tour. Once out there, all he gave a cleat for, said his best friends, was winning a major championship—a Masters or an Open.
"He used to withdraw when he realized he couldn't win a tournament," said Frank Beard, one of his pals. "Bert's a superconcentrator. In bridge games he'll drive you crazy. You sit there waiting for him to bid and finally he'll say, 'You know, that one-iron on the seventh today went sideways.' He really studies himself, and his game."
The third round also belonged to Yancey, although Trevino gained a stroke with a 69. Bert played steadily for a par 70 and his 54-hole total broke an Open record. His 205 was one stroke lower than the 206 Tommy Jacobs had shot at Congressional in 1964. In that third round Yancey and Trevino were paired together, and it already seemed that they were playing one tournament while the rest of the field was playing another. All day long Yancey was seven strokes or more ahead of Jack Nicklaus. Only Trevino was close to him in score, or in person. If you removed those two from the field, the Open looked like an Open should—Nicklaus tied for the lead, with everybody at least two over par. Thus, the thick, cultivated rough, and the silica sand, and the subtle contours of well-prepared Oak Hill were whipping the field. An Open course is supposed to whip the field, as everybody with good sense knows. But it wasn't. It wasn't whipping Yancey and Trevino.
Until the last day when the putter deserted him, along with most every other club, Yancey looked like the complete golfer. And the only logic you could work out was that a good golfer was having a good week on a well-groomed course. A player who had proved he could win on all types of greens—rye at Azalea, Bermuda at Memphis, Poa annua at Portland—Yancey was now proving he could win on the bent at Oak Hill in Rochester. He was always right around the cup, or in it, as he primarily destroyed the par-4 holes, birdieing nine of them through the three rounds.
Trevino seemed to be hanging in there only because no one else was, and he figured it might as well be he. Nor was he playing the kind of golf Yancey was. On Friday, for example, Trevino drove eight times into the rough, but his putter kept saving him. Lee would walk down the fairways, hollering at friends and strangers alike, saying, "What am I doin' wrong? I don't know if I'm gonna hook it or slice it." But then he would scramble to the green and get the ball down and stay close enough to Yancey to make it a contest.
When they were paired together for Saturday's third round, the Open sort of became an old-fashioned PGA Championship. Match play was reborn. Yancey went through the first nine in 34 and at one point held a five-stroke lead on the field, including Trevino. But Lee got three birdies on the back while Bert slipped on one hole, and Trevino had charged back into contention. But no one felt it could last.
Any competitor in the locker room who was asked about it said that on Sunday when Yancey and Trevino were going out there head to head again—match play again—it would be Yancey who would play all the golf. Only Nicklaus, they said, had a chance to throw up a 67 or 66 right in front of them, scare them and win.
It was Dave Marr who said, "You know Yancey can play, and you know how badly he wants to win a big one. You just don't know anything about the jumping bean."
You do now. All the gringos do.