Thumbs up to Lee Trevino, who after a year-long absence from the Senior PGA Tour leader board, is back on top. His two-stroke victory over Bruce Crampton and Raymond Floyd in the Cadillac NFL Classic in Clifton, N.J., last weekend was Trevino's first Senior tour win since he underwent surgery on a torn ligament in his left thumb in December. "My thumb is 100 percent," said Trevino on Sunday. "It is totally healed. I'm sending my doctor a bottle of champagne."
Trevino injured his thumb last June. By then he had already won five titles in what promised to be a bonanza year, much like the one he'd enjoyed in 1990, his rookie season with the graybeards. That year he won seven tournaments and hauled in a Senior tour record $1,190,518. After he hurt his thumb while hitting balls, he didn't win another title the rest of the year. Still, he won Player of the Year honors and again led the tour in earnings.
Kirk Watson, an orthopedic surgeon in Hartford, repaired the ligament. During a three-month layoff Trevino ran three miles a day on his treadmill and lost 17 pounds. When he rejoined the tour in March for the Gulfstream, in Indian Wells, Calif., he was wearing a plastic brace under his glove. The brace hindered his play and he tied for 32nd. Then he placed 13th at the Tradition, and two weeks after that he tied for 23rd at the PGA Seniors Championship. For a man whose genius is his "feel," his ability to bend shots and shape them to the contours of the course, the brace was no bargain. He was so dismayed by his game that he considered further surgery, including a ligament transplant.
Finally, in early May, he took a week off to practice braceless. He showed up in Malvern, Pa., to defend the last title he had won, the Bell Atlantic, with no brace and no expectations. So when he found himself in the lead with six holes to go, no one was more surprised than he was. He bogeyed three of those six holes and tied for third.
Nonetheless, that was good enough to bolster his expectations at the NFL Classic. "I came into this week playing well," he said. "I was very confident."
Along with high hopes Super Mex brought a few changes in his putting. He spent the eve of the tournament in his hotel room perfecting a shorter, firmer stroke. In addition he eliminated the practice swing he had gotten in the habit of taking before each putt and tried "spot putting," which is focusing on a spot a few feet in front of the ball instead of on the ball itself.
On Friday he needed only 26 putts en route to a five-under-par 67 and a share of the first-round lead. Two strokes back was Floyd. Trevino and Floyd both turned in 70s on Saturday. Floyd probably had his best chance to overtake Trevino on Sunday on the wicked par-4 12th hole. Holding a three-shot lead, Trevino hit his drive behind a tree and bogeyed. However, Floyd, who was suffering from food poisoning he blamed on a Saturday-night spaghetti dinner, didn't do any better. He dropped his second shot into the water and bogeyed, too. "I don't know if I could have beaten a healthy Raymond Floyd," said Trevino. "I take my hat off to him. He was really ill out there."
Although Trevino is back in fine form, he says he won't pursue victories as rabidly as he once did. "I set goals in the past," he says. "And I would have been disappointed if I hadn't done as well as I did in 1990, '91 or '92. This year, if I don't win, it's fine. I've done what I wanted to do."
In light of this new approach, Trevino says last week's victory is "icing on the cake." And what a rich cake it is. In his 26 years in pro golf, Trevino has won 52 titles, the last 16 of them on the Senior tour, and more than $7 million. "I'm enjoying myself now more than ever," he said on Sunday. "I want to cut back a bit, do other things and spend more time at home. But," he added, lest anyone be tempted to consign him to another extended absence from the winner's circle, "I still want to play, and I'll still play to win."