Nothing in golf provides instant gratification like the Skins Game. Sure, it's a contrived event, but it's also the only one that virtually guarantees that someone famous will do something dramatic. In the fifth Skins Game, played last weekend at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., Lee Trevino added to his considerable fame by providing the drama—in the form of the most electrifying feat in the sport, the hole in one.
By beaming a six-iron shot into the cup of the the water-encircled 167-yard 17th hole—known as Alcatraz—Trevino earned a skin worth $175,000. Trevino knew the ball was sweetly struck as soon as he hit it. "Boy, it looked like a Rembrandt up there," he said. It landed about five feet short of the cup, took two short bounces and dropped in.
Trevino stood motionless for a couple of seconds. Then he turned and hugged the ample torso of his caddie, Herman Mitchell. "Thank you, Santa Claus," said Mitchell.
Still stunned, Trevino raised his arms and jumped up and down on the tee. "It's the first time in my life I ever saw something make you shut up," Jack Nicklaus told Trevino, who finished the two-day, 18-hole event with $310,000 in winnings. Nicklaus and Fuzzy Zoeller each won $70,000, and Arnold Palmer was shut out.
December 7, 1987
For Trevino, 48, who won only $51,212 while playing 11 events on the regular Tour this year, the ace provided a regenerative moment at a time when he was supposed to be sitting back waiting to join the Senior tour. But he wasn't happy with his play during his first appearance in the Skins, in 1986, so this year he came to the desert 12 days early to prepare. "Even if I didn't make a skin, I wanted to know I had paid the price," Trevino said afterward. "The only other time I practiced this hard was before I won the 1972 British Open. There was a lot of money to be made, and I only had to beat three guys."
The most formidable appeared to be Zoeller, who had won $370,000 in last year's Skins and had earned $222,921 on the Tour this year. However, on Saturday it was Nicklaus who started off hot, with birdies on the first three holes to win two skins. "It made me think of the first round in the 1962 U.S. Open, when I was paired with Arnold," said Nicklaus, getting caught up in the nostalgia that is the lifeblood of the Skins. He finished Saturday's nine holes by making a 30-footer for a birdie for his third skin. Trevino, who missed a six-footer on the ninth that could have put him in a tie with Nicklaus, skipped the postround press conference, leaving the course in a huff.
"He was aggravated with the way he was putting," said his wife, Claudia. "But I told him, 'Don't worry about the putter. Just hit it so close you won't have to use it.' "
Words to play by. Trevino began Sunday's final nine by hitting his six-iron nine feet from the hole and then knocking in the putt for a skin. He got another one at the 12th. When Nicklaus sank a clutch eight-footer for a birdie to halve the 16th with Zoeller, the 17th hole was worth five skins, and the stage was set for Trevino to follow his wife's advice.
After the other three players failed to match Trevino's ace on 17, Trevino hit his magic six-iron again on his approach to the 18th and made another birdie. And another $35,000. As Zoeller said, "When you play skins, you want to be a pig about it."
The only guy who made as much as Trevino on Sunday was independent producer Don Ohlmeyer, the creator of the Skins Game. Ohlmeyer called tennis's first Stakes Match an "absolute rip-off' of his brainchild. When asked if he feared that the Stakes Match, which was carried by ABC and went head-to-head with the Skins Game on NBC for two hours on Sunday, would carve into his TV audience, Ohlmeyer said, "Actually, I'd be more worried going against a local movie."
As it turned out, the Skins did far better than the Stakes in the overnight ratings, and it hung up better numbers than any golf tournament except the Masters during the year. Compared with real golf, it's quick, easy and disposable. Keep the good shots, throw away the bad ones. For the audience and Trevino, his ace was the biggest keeper of all.