The news that the PGA of America will present its Distinguished Service Award to Lee Trevino should bring a smile to golfers everywhere. The 73-year-old winner of six major championships is a regular guy who made it big in golf, with an idiosyncratic swing that is hardly textbook, although perhaps it should be. Trevino knew where the ball was going every time he set up to hit a shot.
There's a lot to like about Trevino, who will receive the award on Aug. 7th during the week of the PGA Championship at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. He wasn't to the country club born, that's for sure. Raised by his mother and grandfather in a house without running water or electricity, he picked up the game as a caddy. He quit school at 14 and could beat most golfers with a taped-up Dr. Pepper bottle as a club.
Trevino was quick with a quip and he could pepper the ball. Still, it was as big a surprise to the golf world when he won the 1968 U.S. Open at Oak Hill as John Daly was when he won the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Indianapolis Ind. Trevino won that first of his two U.S. Opens at Oak Hill. He won his second U.S. Open in 1971 at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Penn., where the championship will be played in June. He won the Open Championship that same summer, at the Muirfield Golf Club in Gullane, Scotland. Muirfield will host the Open this July.
Trevino also won the Canadian Open at Richelieu Valley in Montreal that summer of 1971, between the U.S. Open and the Open. The Royal Canadian Golf Association (now Golf Canada) created a Triple Crown trophy to recognize Trevino's accomplishment of winning three Opens in four weeks. Trevino also won the 1977 and 1979 Canadian Opens.
It's appropriate that Trevino, who has always had a soft spot for kids and has been involved in many charitable organizations, should be presented the PGA of America's highest honour the week of the organization's championship. The venues for three of the four majors this year are at courses where he won half his majors: Oak Hill, Merion, and Muirfield. This will be the summer of Lee Buck Trevino, a summer when he gets the sort of public recognition he deserves.
For a reporter, there has never been a more accommodating golfer than Trevino, at least in my experience. Famously private, so much so that he would rarely leave his hotel room during a tournament, he still liked to talk. And talk. And talk. I chatted with him often about the late Moe Norman, the Canadian golfing wizard who was also not to the country club born. Trevino had an abiding respect and affection for Moe, a golfer who was never comfortable with the public side of the game. But he could make the golf ball talk and twist, and so could Trevino.
I was fortunate enough to get a first-hand look at Trevino's mastery of the ball during the 1979 Labatt's International for the Canadian PGA Championship. The tournament was played at the National Golf Club in Woodbridge, Ont. I caddied for Jim Nelford, and he was in the same group as Trevino in one round.
That round happened to be the one in which Trevino set the competitive course record. He shot 67 on what was, as I recall, a par-71 course at the time. The National was as hard a course then as any in Canada or the U.S., and I include Pine Valley in Clementon, N.J. in that assessment. Heck, I'd go so far as to say it was the hardest course in North America, never mind as hard a course as any.
Trevino birdied the last four holes of the round, and he whipped a different kind of shot into each green. He aimed over the pond left of the green on the par-three 15th hole and cut his ball back in and near the hole. Birdie. He clipped a shot off the tight fairway turf on the 16th hole and the ball finished close to the hole. Birdie again. Trevino hit a precise, drifting iron to the raised green at the 17th and birdied that hole.
At the 18th, Trevino called on all his shotmaking ability. Many golf observers believed he couldn't hit the ball high, and said that was one reason he never won the Masters. His best finishes were ties for 10th in 1975 and 1985. But Trevino lofted his approach a mile high to the well-elevated green at the long par-four final hole at the National, and birdied the hole to cap off his round. He went on to win the CPGA Championship. If memory serves, Lanny Wadkins finished second. Nelford finished fourth when Tom Watson holed a greenside bunker shot at the 18th to take third place.
Years later I arranged an interview with Watson during a Champions Tour event at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club. Trevino was hitting four-woods out of a practice fairway bunker when I arrived. He continued to express himself with a series of brilliant shots from there as we chatted.
Trevino had the gift of gab and he had the gift of golf and it was always fun to speak with and write about him. My guess is that he'll speak off the top of his head when he accepts the PGA's Distinguished Service Award at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. My guess is also that he'll again prove himself quite the entertainer. He's entertained for years with his golf shots and his golf talk.
Distinguished and distinctive: That's Lee Trevino. Those of us who saw him in his prime were lucky. He talked golf like nobody then or since, and he made the golf ball dance to a rollicking tune of his own invention.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein