Q&A With Lee Trevino

Trevino turns 70 on Dec 1, and as a six-time major winner, he has some opinions on the game

Lee Trevino

Lee Trevino with Minnie, photographed at home in North Dallas by Walter Iooss Jr., Jan. 30, 2009.

December 2009

Lee Trevino is out on the manicured grounds of his expansive French-colonial mansion in North Dallas when a visitor is admitted through the front gate. Trevino is wearing shorts and a T-shirt, kibitzing with his two Papillons, Minnie and Lulu, and holding a custom-made putter after filling it with lead. At the moment, he's thinking of doing the same to a beaver that has been taking chunks out of his property.

"All my life living around here, never seen a beaver," says Trevino, who turns 70 on Dec. 1. "I've been doing research on them, but it's been hard to find him. I know one thing: He never stops working. Tough little dude."

Trevino could have been describing himself, for no golfer has ever come farther on industriousness and grit. After picking cotton in Texas fields when he was 5 years old, dividing his golf baptism between the caddie yard and the range, beating all comers on a par-3 course with a taped-up Dr Pepper bottle, and then becoming a man in the Marines, Trevino joined the tour at 27, a folk hero in the making. In his second year he won the 1968 U.S. Open, the first of four times Jack Nicklaus finished second to Trevino in a major. Trevino would win 29 times, including six majors, on the PGA Tour. Amid the success, he lost two fortunes and then lost his game after being hit by lightning. But he fought back with a second act that included winning 29 more tournaments on the Champions Tour.

These days, Trevino plays only a few tournaments and shoots over par more than he's under, but he's more engaging and entertaining with fans than ever. His focus is on his wife of 26 years, Claudia, and their children, Olivia, 20, a drama major at Southern Cal, and Daniel, 17, who lives at home and is on track to play college lacrosse.

Golf Digest prompted Trevino's mercurial mind to reflect on such things as his Dickensian background, Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and occasional golf partners George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice. In the process, Trevino issued an impromptu manifesto on the state of golf. He also had a message for Paul Goydos, who in defending the current era of players opined that "there are 10 Lee Trevinos" on tour today.

"Tell him you were at my house," Trevino said with a smile, "and you tell him to send me the list of the 10 guys out there who have won six majors and 29 tournaments. Give him my address."

Golf Digest: What's the story on this house?

Lee Trevino: I was meant to be in this house. I grew up about five miles from here. I used torabbit hunt around these creeks as a kid. There wasn't nothin', just cattle and ranch land. This house was built in 1939, same year I was born. And we'd come down here, see this house, and we thought it was a castle. Never seen anything this big. Then when we moved back to Dallas a few years ago, this house was Claudia's favorite of the ones she looked at. We drive up, and I say, "I've seen this house before." She says, "When? Where?" So I told her the story. I'm back to my roots, man.

Those roots included a lot of tough times. Is it hard for you to look back?

I never think of yesterday. Can't do anything about it. I'm a positive guy. When you really deep down look at it, we go to bed every night, get up every morning, stay here for 70 or 80 years, and then we die. What the hell were we doing? [Laughs.] Claudia taught me the answer: Those two kids. To make them the best people, so they'll be productive, help others.

You know, I'm going to be cremated. I've got two steel spacers in my back, and I have a steel plate in my neck with six screws. I told Claudia, when they deliver the ashes, I want her to reach in the urn, and if she doesn't find two spacers, a plate and six screws, it's not me. Claudia will spread my ashes somewhere. St. Andrews would be great.

What does hitting 70 mean?

Nothing. A number. Actually, I'm making it a positive. I like to go to the gym, and practice, and shoot these scores with my friends, and people say, "I can't believe you're almost 70."

Have you left competitive golf behind, mentally?

Oh, yeah. I left that quite a while ago. When I realized I couldn't win, that took everything out of it. The only reason I go out on the Champions Tour is to talk to the guys, have some fun. I still get all the people in the gallery walking around with me because they know they're going to hear some stories.

How do you know when your competitive days are over?

Every shot feels like the first shot of the day. If I'm on the range hitting shot after shot, I can hit them just as good as I did when I was 30. But out on the course, your body changes between shots. You get out of the cart, and you've got this 170-yard 5-iron over a bunker, and it goes about 138. [Laughs.]

How much recreational golf do you play?

Not a lot. I play with an old friend, Wendell Condit, a car dealer I've known over 50 years. We play at Diamond Oaks in Fort Worth, not a fancy course. Greens probably about a seven on the Stimpmeter. My partner is Orville, a bail bondsman, and then we've got John, a heavy-equipment operator in Alaska. They treat me great. I'm just one of the guys. That's how I like to play golf.

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