It was hard to find Lee Trevino when the pro golf tour was out there in California and Arizona and Hawaii, while Jack was winning Bing's tournament and Arnie was taking Bob's, while Bruce Crampton swept Arizona and the firm of Funseth, Schlee and Dickson snapped up three. But Lee was there, slashing around in the weeds, getting off his gags and gagging at some of the worst performances of his pro career.
Lee Trevino finishing 55th? Yep. The same guy who does the aspirin and automobile and soft-drink commercials. The comic book character with the Mickey Mouse swing and Superman results. The fellow who sprouted quick like a mushroom about six years ago and began winning the U.S. and British Opens in the years Jack Nicklaus did not. Taught us that Mexicans do something besides take siestas in Hollywood Westerns. Made tattoos and Elvis Presley hair fashionable again. The Nemesis. Sam had Ben. Arnold had Jack. Jack had Lee. And still does, it seems.
People were reminded of all that last week near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a zippy community where a lot of folks dress like advertisements and look as if they could fly youth fare. It was there, at the Jackie Gleason Inverrary National Airlines Classic, one of the richest tournaments and longest proper nouns on the pro golf tour, that after six weeks of looking like a guy fumbling with the apartment key while his telephone is ringing, Lee Trevino found his golf game again—with a borrowed set of clubs. He won the tournament and the $52,000 first prize, but more important, his performance alerted the other tour giants that he was back from running with the grunions.
The Gleason also established Forrest Fezler as a phone book listing instead of the name of a national park. Poor Forrest. For three days he was the surprise of the tournament, even more scintillating than President Nixon's cameo appearance. A 23-year-old in his second tour year, he had to qualify for the Gleason, but once in he took a share of the first-round lead and, astonishingly enough, moved ahead on Friday, and more ahead on Saturday—three strokes, in fact. He had needed three tries at the TPD players' school before he could get out on the tour. Now he was telling a rapt press room audience that he has been playing well since growing a mustache. Sunday, as it had to, reality caught up with Forrest. A missed four-footer at 17, a missed five-footer at 18, a buried head and a sob. But second place was worth $29,640.
March 5, 1973
First place meant a lot more than money. Before the tournament began everyone was wondering if Trevino had a terminal case of bad grip or crooked arm. "I played with Lee a couple of times this year, and it seemed as if he was 25 feet from the hole all day," said Lanny Wadkins. "You can't score that way. For the last few years it's been mostly Trevino and Nicklaus. I think that's going to change. There are too many good young players out here. They have to win."
Well, maybe. Certainly Trevino had not worried golf's aspiring mod squad with his performance on the West Coast. In six tournaments he had shot only one round under 70 and won only pin money—$13,500. Even at Tucson, where he had won twice before, he ended a distant 13th. Trevino's ninth-place finish in the Crosby was the best of a futile lot, and his scoring average was up over a stroke per round from last year, when he won the Vardon Trophy for the third straight time. Trevino was worried.
"He's tried beating it from so many different angles recently," said Cesar Sanudo, Lee's best friend on the tour. "I told him two weeks ago, 'Why don't you quit all this and just be Lee Trevino?' I think he needs to play less so that he wants to win when he does play. He just has to get hungry, that's all."
But after so many years of living with a growling stomach, Trevino has grown accustomed to feeling full. He estimates that last year he did 23 television commercials and took another 20 days to play exhibitions, plus merchandising clothing, golf club equipment and anything else that he could stamp with his sombrero trademark. "I don't like to leave anything on the table," Trevino said early last week. "I'd play two exhibitions a day if I could. Look, I could be parked at a red light, and a guy could run into my car and break my back, and it would be all over. I'm doing a lot of work on my game, but I'm not worried. I made it big. That outside stuff is getting in my way, but I'm making so much money that I can't stop. If I keep playing this way, it'll slow down the contracts, but when it gets to where they don't want me for the contracts, then I'll be able to practice and work on my game. As long as they keep buggin' me, I like it. When my game goes sour, I'll play exhibitions for charity."
After breaking 70 in 12 of his last 21 rounds in 1972, Trevino had his clubs reshafted, then stored them for a few weeks. "I figure I won over $600,000 in 2½ years with those clubs, but when I picked them up at Christmastime they felt heavy to me. I thought it was because I had been sick."
As the 1973 tour moved along in California, Lee attributed his poor showing to his usual early season slump. He never has won a tournament on the West Coast and likes to joke that Calif. is short for Come and Live in Florida. Battling his game, he grew irascible. He gave up his daily two-mile run, figuring that the resulting loss of weight had affected his swing. Finally, out of frustration, he decided his clubs must be too heavy and he chopped some weight from them. When he was finished they looked like well-used tool bits.
Upon arriving at the Gleason, Trevino did not have a set of clubs he could call his own. He tried some new ones in the Wednesday pro-am, shot a 76, tossed them away and considered trying a set owned by one of the women pros. Then, late Wednesday afternoon, he experimented with a set that belonged to Sanudo. The clubs had the same flex shafts in them as the ones he had used for the last few years. Suddenly, in the twilight on the Inverrary practice tee, the old Trevino action was back. The ball was flying true. "How about this, huh...eh...huh?" Trevino yipped in his style. "Look at this."
Trevino went back to his room at a nearby golf course Wednesday night, put new grips on the clubs and was up at eight o'clock Thursday morning hitting practice balls for three hours on a range just outside his door. Then he hastened to the tournament for the opening round, and right away faced a challenge. Starting play on the 10th hole, Trevino had a second shot of 170 yards to a flag tucked behind a bunker, the wind in his face. It was the delicate type of shot that he had not been able to master all year. He hit a high fade, and the ball stopped 12 feet from the hole. "O.K., O.K., here I go," Trevino squealed to his caddie. "Looky here now, eh...huh."
The shot seemed to restore Trevino's confidence, the most important facet of any golfer's game. He made 13 birdies in the first three rounds of the Gleason, posting three straight 69s. That put him in second place.
After each round Trevino hurried back to his living quarters for more practice. Long after dark he was still hitting balls, driving out onto the range in his car with his caddie to retrieve them by the illumination of the headlights. Then he would be up early the next morning for still more practice, trying to master the feel of his new clubs. He said he was still not as comfortable with them as he once felt with his old ones, but everything was improving day by day. By Sunday morning Lee Trevino felt certain he was ready to win.
Which he did, though in the old hustler's fashion of letting the other fellow's nerves do it for you. After rounds of 67-69-68 Forrest Fezler, mustache and all, could only manage a 76. Trevino's 72 was no pearl, but it was jewel enough to win.