In the Bahamas, only the waves--rising, curling, crashing--are
more consistent and more predictable than Lee Trevino's
controlled fades. On this sun-drenched Friday afternoon every
ball he strikes curves gently from left to right. While
leisurely launching shot after shot toward the flags of the
Ocean Club practice range, Lee dispenses fatherly guidance to
his son Tony, who's thrashing at practice Pinnacles with a
runty, snub-nosed ironwood that looks as if it belongs in a
carpenter's tool kit.
"What the hell is that club?" asks Dad. "It's uglier than one of
my old girlfriends."
Tony smiles, picks up a five-iron and continues thrashing at a
flag 160 yards away. His shots don't fade, however. Caught in a
30-mph headwind pushed by Hurricane Olga, they twist and crook
in every direction but flagward. "Flex your knees," counsels
Lee, the self-styled king of the lowball. "When you finish your
swing, your knees should be together."
Tony nods, flexes and swings. His pop-up lands 30 feet from the
December 10, 2001
"Now force your five-iron to the ball with your lower torso,"
says Lee, "and flip the club like a wedge."
Tony nods, forces, flips. His flare drops 10 feet closer to the
Tenderly, the 62-year-old Senior tour pro clasps the shoulders
of the 32-year-old club pro, looks into his eyes and tells him
to get a grip. "Pretend you're holding a tube of toothpaste
without a top on it," Lee says. "Remember: When you swing, I
don't want to see that s--- squirt out."
Tony nods, relaxes his hands and swings without squirting. The
ball cuts a lovely, low arc and stops within two feet of the
flag. "Gorgeous, son!" says Lee, beaming. "But somehow I know
that tomorrow you'll disregard everything I've told you and
change back to your old ways."
In this case tomorrow was the opening round of the annual
Father/Son Challenge, a $919,000 tournament in which 14 pros,
all former winners of major championships, team with a son in a
36-hole scramble. With six majors in his pocket, Trevino has
been a mainstay of the Challenge since its inception in 1995,
yet he has never finished better than fourth with either Tony or
Tony's older half brother, Rick, also a teaching pro. This year
the old man's driving-range prophecy was all too accurate. Both
Tony and Lee came undone as Team Trevino placed dead last, 11
strokes behind winners Raymond and Robert Floyd.
Lee shrugs off the sorry showings. "No matter where I finish,
this tournament is one of my favorites," he says. "Truth is,
it's more special for me than it is for any of the other fathers
competing." He flashes a smile that's broad and diabolical. "One
thing I like about the Challenge is that there are no
girlfriends, no daughters, no wives. In fact, no broads are
allowed. Of course, if we run into any, that's another story."
Lee has endured two divorces, several failed business ventures,
a lightning strike and a couple of back operations. "My first
two wives dumped me," Trevino says. "They thought all I wanted
to do was scream and play golf." He doesn't dispute the point.
For all his tribulations Lee insists his only real
disappointment is not having spent enough time with his
children. He has six, ranging from 39-year-old Rick to
nine-year-old Daniel, who goes by his middle name, Lee. Only
little Lee and his sister, Olivia--children of their father's
current 18-year marriage to the former Claudia Bove--see much of
him. Tony gets together with his father once in a blue moon.
"I totally neglected my four oldest kids," Lee says as coolly as
if he were reading scores off a leader board. "I gave them the
roof over their heads, but I didn't give them the love."
He gave golf his most precious possession: his time. "I put the
game before everything," says Lee. "I didn't realize what a
stranger I had become to my family until it was too late." He
estimates that he spent 300 days per year on the road for two
decades. "It was extremely selfish of me. I thought kids grew
up, went to school, graduated and kissed you every now and then,
but when your kid's childhood is gone, it's gone. You're not
ever going to get it back."
Lee never knew his own father. Raised by his maternal grandpop
in a dirt-floor shack near a Dallas muni, he quit school before
the eighth grade to work for the greens superintendent at a
country club. "I never dwelled on not having a dad around," he
says. "I was too busy trying to survive."
It's different for the upper-middle-class progeny of PGA Tour
players. "Kids of pros from Lee's era share a bond of confusion
and anger," says 28-year-old Eric Weiskopf, who alongside his
father, Tom, finished third last week. "I used to wonder,
Where's Dad? Why isn't he home? Doesn't he like me? All I wanted
was to be with him, yet I hardly ever was. It ate me up."
Lee passed up Tony's birth to play in the Masters in 1969, the
year after he stunned the world by winning the U.S. Open, his
first of 27 Tour victories. "I was in Augusta, shooting about an
80," Lee says. "How's that for selfish?" Yet Tony says he
actually preferred not having the not-so-Merry Mex around. "If
he was home, it usually meant he hadn't play well that week and
wouldn't be in a good mood," Tony says. "Instead of missing him,
it was more like, 'When is he going to be gone? Get the guy out
Despite a lack of paternal encouragement, Tony became one of the
more promising junior players in El Paso--a shy, modest kid in
public who wasn't afraid to get lippy with the greatest mouth in
the game in private. As Tony recalls, after Lee chided him for
finishing second in a tournament when he was eight years old, he
snapped, "Didn't you miss the cut this week, Dad?"
Lee and Tony's mother, the former Claudia Fenley, divorced when
Tony was 13, the age at which he lost interest in becoming a pro
golfer. He was tired of being compared with his father.
"Everyone was scared to death of me until I teed off," he says.
"Then it was, 'I can beat Lee Trevino's son.'"
One day Tony came home from a tournament without his clubs. "He
had left them next to one of the greens," Lee says. "I had to go
back and fetch them." Had Tony come to resent his absent dad? "I
think so," says Lee, "and I don't blame him."
On the PGA Tour the son almost never rises. Only five pairs of
fathers and sons have won Tour events, and none have won majors.
Free lessons and equipment are about the only breaks that kids
of pros receive. "Being the son of a famous golfer is a source
of confidence when you're playing well," says Ron Stockton, 33,
a retired mini-tour player who teamed with his father, Dave, to
tie for seventh place. "When you're not, you sense the
expectations of the people watching you. You're seen as
so-and-so's kid, and then you go out, lay the sod over a shot
and feel like an idiot. Eventually you find other things to do
that make you feel good about yourself."
For Tony, the other thing was basketball. As a 5'7" guard he
made all-district at Aubrey High, outside Denton, Texas. The
school had no golf team, and Tony didn't take the sport
seriously again until he enrolled at North Texas State (now the
University of North Texas). However, two weeks before the start
of the season he tried to break up a street fight and wound up
breaking his right arm in three places. The injury required two
steel plates and 13 screws. "Before I even had a college
career," says Tony, "it was over."
At 21 Tony dropped out of school to become a full-time golf
instructor, working for six years under Hank Haney in McKinney,
Texas. Since 1995 he has been the director of instruction at San
Antonio's Golf Club of Texas, a course designed by his father.
"I watch eight hours of bad swings, hit balls for a half hour
and then go home to my wife and daughter," Tony says of his
life. He hates leaving home, which is why he considers the
injury something of a blessing. "If not for that broken arm, I'd
probably be out on the Hooters tour, struggling to get my card."
Lee credits his wife with straightening out his priorities.
"Claudia showed me there's a life outside golf," he says, "and
that I should enjoy it." Having promised her that he'd be a
practicing parent, he often brings his two youngsters along on
the Senior tour. "Olivia and Lee are beneficiaries of the
mistakes I made with Tony," says Lee. "It's important that my
little kids know me."
What Tony knows best about Lee is his swing, a loopy lunge that
contradicts every textbook except for his own. Although the
self-taught Lee sometimes seeks Tony's advice on form, he
doesn't necessarily follow it. "I'll hire a teacher only when I
find one who can beat me," he says, repeating a line he has used
for decades to underscore his disdain for swing coaches. "Tony's
sharp and knows his golf, but he forgets how many trophies this
old man has won."
"If he was home," Tony says, "he hadn't played well and would be
in a bad mood. It was, like, 'Get him out of here.'"