Old Super Mex had been missing for a while, and the game of professional golf had suffered from the absence. There had not been enough laughter, or nearly enough of his brilliant shotmaking, or enough of the sense of real combat that he brings to a championship when he is out there thrashing around with a chance to win. But in some North Carolina hills last week, Lee Trevino came back again, wisecracking every step of the way, and doing that thing he has done so often in the past—dragging Jack Nicklaus along behind him. This is how Trevino won the PGA, the last of this year's major titles, by throwing his game up against that of Nicklaus and writing the same old ending.
It was a strange tournament in a strange place, and what it finally came down to on Sunday was a Trevino-Nicklaus confrontation of the kind that has taken place so frequently. Not always head to head, but at least emotionally. In the two U.S. Opens and the two British Opens that Trevino had won, it was Nicklaus, essentially, that Lee had to beat. And on the outskirts of Winston-Salem in this PGA, on a golf course that only Trevino expressed any devout love for, they were in the same threesome for the final 18, separated by a fragile stroke, and all Nicklaus did was inspire Trevino to play near-perfect golf.
When they reached the last nine holes, which is where most big championships are decided, Trevino did that gutty, hustler's thing he is so well equipped to do. He outdrove Nicklaus when he had to, stuck his irons inside of Jack's when he had to, and he liked to say, as always, that it wasn't because he was playing Nicklaus "personally" but because Jack stimulates him. Everybody who believes that can crawl inside a Titleist.
From tee to green, Trevino's 69 on Sunday was the finest round he played all week, even better than the four-under 66 he shot on Friday that catapulted him into contention. That was back in the days when people like John Schlee were leading. On Sunday, when it was going to count the most, Lee hit just about every fairway and missed only two greens.
And why was he throwing it at the flags?
"What I decided was, this was the last big one of the year, and I'm the 54-hole leader, and I got to go out and play with Jack, so I'm gonna go for everything," Trevino tried to explain. "So I just tried to nail every flag, and I did most of 'em."
The day began with Trevino holding a one-stroke lead over Nicklaus and Bobby Cole, who was destined to "go South" eventually—doing so with a whiff and a double bogey at the 71st—and through most of the afternoon it was a case of Trevino hoping to hold back Nicklaus, a fellow Lee keeps calling "the greatest there ever was."
There was both drama and humor in the first five holes. Trevino started the day with a birdie on the heels of Cole, who sank a wedge shot for an eagle two. Nicklaus bogeyed the third, but birdied the 4th and 5th holes, leaving Trevino with the one-stroke lead he began with.
"Jack tried to give me two there," Trevino laughed. "When he birdied the 5th he accidentally put his putter in my bag, so he couldn't find it when he reached for it on the 6th green. I said, 'Hey, man, you're tryin' to give me 15 clubs and a two-shot penalty. Tell you what, I'll take the two if you promise me you won't use that thing the rest of the round.' "
There was even more humor and a sort of genteel bit of sportsmanship at the final hole after Nicklaus and Trevino had both hit fine tee shots and even better approach shots to the last green, Jack with a 20-footer hoping for a tie, and Trevino with an 18-footer, hoping for a Nicklaus miss and a Trevino two-putt for victory at 276.
First, Jack's putt glided past the hole—no birdie—and he marked the ball. Now Trevino putted, nicely, and only a foot or so past the cup.
At that moment Lee glanced at Jack and the third member of the group, Hubert Green, and asked if he could putt out.
"I'm chokin' to death, men," said Lee. "Do you mind if I go ahead and straighten this thing out?"
Nicklaus and Green nodded approval, and the 56th PGA championship was over. Trevino calmly rapped in the putt for a par 4 and the type of happy smile America has not seen from him lately.
There were several reasons for Lee Trevino to smile. He had not won a tournament since March, when he captured New Orleans, and he hadn't won a major title since the summer of 1972 when he took the British Open from Nicklaus at Muirfield. This PGA, incidentally, was Trevino's fifth major championship in the eight years he has been on the tour. And as far as statistics went, there was one to be added to Nicklaus' imposing total. Everyone knows about the 14 major titles he has now collected, but few realize that Jack has also been second more times than any human. This was the 12th time Nicklaus finished as a runner-up in one of the Big Four, four of them behind Trevino. Thus, Nicklaus has been either first or second in no less than 26 major championships.
Technically, the key to Trevino's victory was in the way the golf course played. Rain turned it very soft. Therefore, the greens held almost any kind of iron shot. It was something like throwing darts. And the soggy fairways prevented many a tee shot from bouncing into the high, brutal Bermuda rough.
It was also to Lee's advantage that Tanglewood called for a fade off the tees, with the exception of two holes. Trevino's fade is as natural as his wit. Moisture on the fairways kept his low fade—the burner—from reaching the rough, and the greens held his "hot" irons, as they might not have normally.
But this is not to take anything away from the fact that he continually drove straight and slapped virtually everything at the flagsticks, even when he should have been playing a bit more cautiously. Like on Sunday.
"You can't resist trying to put it inside of a man when it's you and him," Lee said.
The PGA has a habit of going to a peculiar place now and then for the staging of its championship. It has dug up obscure courses in the past, such as Pecan Valley in San Antonio and Columbine in Denver and Llanerch in Philadelphia. This time it selected a site where the golf course had to be redesigned and an entire clubhouse had to be built. Moreover, Tanglewood was essentially a public course in Winston-Salem with no membership to employ for the volunteer labor so necessary to the running of a tournament.
It was as if the PGA was trying to prove it could hold a major championship against all physical odds. The miracles then began to unfold. Robert Trent Jones came in to do over the course, adding enough sand traps to blind an Arab. The Reynolds trust got a clubhouse built practically overnight. The Tanglewood Park employees were hustled into duty on all of those committees, such as marshaling and parking and so forth.
Considering everything, they managed to bring it off, and this was to everyone's credit. But the tournament was obviously lacking in the refinements which go toward a memorable event. The leader boards out on the course were carefully hidden, and those you could find were situated in weird places. There was one on the front nine, for example, which no one could have seen unless he was wandering off toward vacant pastureland. Others seemed to be facing in the wrong directions.
Most of the public parking was located about 2,000 miles from the clubhouse, which crested a hill, and between everyone's car and the tournament were hordes of state troopers looking and acting as if they were getting ready to whip up on somebody or get in a Dodge commercial.
As for the literary set, the Tanglewood PGA produced the first press tent within anyone's memory that was constructed on a slope. Which led Tom Place, the PGA's public information director, to say, "This is the first time you'll have to play a downhill break to get to your typewriter."
It was the third tournament of the year in North Carolina, Greensboro and Kemper having come before, and there will be still one more, the World Open at Pinehurst next month. This must add up to some kind of record for a "brown bag" state, which also insists that a visitor order a cheese sandwich in a bar or else he can't buy wine.
To most of the players, Tanglewood, despite its beauty, represented a setback to the stature they felt their own championship had slowly been attaining. Starting in 1970 with Southern Hills, the PGA had been played at prestige courses. It had gone to what used to be known as the PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens in 1971, to Oakland Hills in 1972 and to Canterbury last year, and the next three will be splendid—Firestone, Congressional and Pebble Beach.
"But in between we had to have this," said Tom Weiskopf with the tone of voice that befits a man ready to withdraw. And Tom was. In the second round Weiskopf, last year's star and this year's Most Frustrated Player, reached the 16th green in a drizzle and then, depending on how you add and subtract, went about the business of nine-putting, at times gripping his putter upside down.
He finally put the ball in his pocket and told a PGA official, "I'm injured and I quit."
"What's your injury?" a friend asked.
"I'm 25 over," Tom grinned, and left.
One thing Tanglewood did even before the excitement and drama of the final round was bring Trevino out of hiding. It was immensely refreshing to have him back laughing and wisecracking instead of complaining. Only a month ago at the British Open, Lee was saying he was tired of golf and sick of not having any privacy.
"Hey," he said at Tanglewood, after his 66, "ain't nothin' like a low round to make you un-tired."
And he said to an old friend, "You know what I'd do if I had the privacy I said I want? After two days I'd go looking for everybody."
When John Schlee, the astrology buff, tied for the first round lead and then held it all by himself after 36 holes, Trevino said, "Everybody out here's got a belief. Schlee believes in the horoscope and Kermit Zarley believes in the Bible, and I believe in making more birdies than bogeys."
Trevino wasn't alone in pumping fun and thrills into the tournament. There was Sam Snead, 32 years older and 25 yards shorter than he was in 1942, when he first won the PGA. Snead, merely 62, went out and shot 69-71-71-68=279 to tie for third—third—with Cole, Green and Dave Hill. And Gary Player added excitement, too, although he did most of it in a single day, Friday, when he scorched Tanglewood with a record-tying 64 despite two bogeys.
In one stretch Player birdied six of seven holes, from the eighth through the 14th, hitting glorious irons into the rain-softened Tanglewood greens. Meanwhile, Player's regular American caddy and the man who carried his clubs through the British Open victory at Lytham, Alfred Dyer, was outside the ropes. As in the U.S. Open, the PGA prohibits regular caddies. Nonetheless, Rabbit, as he is known—or Lord Dyer, Sir Alfred of Rabbit, as he is now styled—marked off the course for Gary and provided him with considerable moral support and constant PR, not that Gary can not handle that himself.
"I didn't play so well this week," said Player, who came in seventh, "although even par wasn't a bad score. Looking back on the four major championships, I can see only nine holes where I actually played poorly, for whatever reason. That was at Winged Foot. Tried too hard, perhaps. I honestly felt I would win the next three after Augusta, and to come as close as I did makes me feel pretty good."
Player thought for a moment, and then he said: "But I'll tell you this. As straight as Trevino was driving this week, no one was going to beat him at Tanglewood. From Saturday on it looked like he thought it was his tournament, and when a good player gets in a mood like that, he's very difficult to beat."
And once again old Super Mex was in that kind of mood. Funny how Nicklaus seems to cause it.