Lee Trevino

Lee Trevino: The Last Pure Golfer

Lee Trevino was the star of the show on Monday at the Old Course, reminding us of his singular place in the game

By Michael Bamberger
July 12, 2022

ST. ANDREWS — A small group of golf fans and autograph-collectors were on one side of a flimsy metal chain-link fence and Lee Trevino was on the other. This was near the driving range, at the Old Course on Monday afternoon. The fence started to topple over, in Trevino’s direction. The brief, sudden roar that announces unfolding chaos went up. A security guard went running over.

“Mr. Trevino, Mr. Trevino, are you all right?”

Mr. Trevino was busy just then. The 82-year-old golfing icon, activating his big bottom and short arms and bare hands — the tools of his profession, along with his mind — was holding the fence up while telling the people on the other side to pull as he pushed. Order was restored in no time. Trevino resumed signing.

Trevino has been struck by lightning. He has been broke and rich and broke and rich. He has been through periods where he was at odds with certain business partners, with his back, with the lords of Augusta. He could handle a falling fence and a group of polite, exuberant fans without batting an eye. He was handling everything.

“I watch you,” Trevino told the American golfer Brian Harman. “I see everything you’re doing.”

It was not meant as a literal truth. It was meant to convey: I’m current in this game, and the things I know will last forever. That was Harman’s take.

The left-handed golfer chatted with Trevino for a few minutes at the driving range. Harman was asking how closed you could get with your lead foot without getting too closed. Trevino talked about the relationship between the front foot and the back. Trevino has a PhD in the yin and the yang of golf. It was the first time Harman had spent time with him.

“Here’s a legend, on the range,” Harman said later. “To have a chance to talk to Lee Trevino and not do it, that would be just wrong. He has the gift for making the golf swing simple. Sometimes you get so stuck in the TrackMan numbers, and all the numbers, you lose that the golf swing is more art than science.” For Trevino, Harman said, golf was more art than science. He hopes it is for him too.

What Trevino did in his one-of-a-kind golfing life, he did by himself. (He won two U.S. Opens, two Open Championships, two PGA Championships and scores of other events.) What he knows about golf, he figured out for himself. Whatever doors he opened in this world, through his skill at golf and savant-like understanding of it, he opened himself. Some of us are always drawn to golfers like that. Lee Elder. Moe Norman. Carlos Franco. Larry Nelson. Earl Woods, in his own way, had those qualities. He didn’t become an elite golfer, but his youngest son did.

About the only thing Trevino seems to need in his at-large golfing life is an audience to validate him. Jack Nicklaus never needed an audience. Neither did Ben Hogan or Mickey Wright or Woods. Arnold Palmer did. Seve Ballesteros did. Phil Mickelson does, even though he declined to play in Monday’s outing. Lee Trevino did and Lee Trevino does.

He doesn’t have that many opportunities to show off what he knows to the tiny population of the world that will understand what he’s talking about. Monday was one of those opportunities. He was on the course for about four hours, warming up, playing, hanging out, and he seemed completely, uniquely alive.

Regarding the validation thing: That’s OK. If we were all the same, the world would be a dull place. It’s the very thing that keeps Trevino young. He was playing in the four-hole exhibition for former champions on Monday afternoon. Nicklaus, his contemporary and foil, was not. “Come join us on 17 and 18 and I’ll ride in with you,” Trevino told Nicklaus as they gathered on the 1st tee.

Yes, filling in as a 1st-tee starter. Trevino’s foursome included Woods, Rory McIlroy and Georgia Hall, the English golfer who won the 2018 Women’s British Open. They played the 1st and 2nd holes and when they arrived at the 17th tee, Nicklaus was there. There was a lot of talk and a lot of laughing. Trevino did a killing imitation of Nicklaus over a putt and Nicklaus laying sod over a long-ago pitch shot. Nicklaus was giggling. Woods was cracking up. Hall was trying to understand it.

But the most telling thing was this: Trevino bragging about his sand wedge, with 17 degrees of bounce! (Half that is more typical.) “For soft sand,” Trevino said. Like, in case he got into the Road Hole bunker. All his life, Trevino collected golf clubs like they were friends, and he put the exact clubs in play he needed for each round. His youngest son, Daniel, carried them in a small, plain black bag on Monday.

A crowd had assembled in front of the Jigger Inn, there to see Tiger and Rory — and Trevino. Adam Scott came out of the Old Course Hotel to watch. He sees all of Tiger and Rory he needs to see. He was there to watch Trevino, walking, waggling, swinging. Pontificating. Trevino’s gait remains nearly perfect. When he walks into a golf ball and positions his feet, he looks completely at home. Nicklaus’s mind is still incredibly sharp, but playing even four flat, short holes for public consumption holds no interest for him and walking can be a struggle. Whatever Trevino is doing, it’s working.

On the range and by the practice green, an international parade of golfers and golf people — Harman, Jon Rahm of Spain, Sungjae Im of South Korea, the notably international golf instructors Dave Phillips and Pete Cowan — were hanging on Trevino’s every word. Shot after shot after shot was on the face. He hooked putts. He sliced putts. His putting stroke looks like a golf swing, not something produced by a machine. It’s hard to think of a golfer who putts like that today. Tiger released the clubhead, but Trevino released the body.

Trevino, forever, has been able to turn on and off his showman switch like you’re silencing your phone. When he feels the need, Trevino can be a storyteller, a comedian, a golf historian, a charmer. He wrapped up his day, the public portion of it, by telling a film crew about the charms of the R&A museum here, the scores of early Open winners, the numbers of holes they played, his love of history. It was extraordinary.

The day was giving him what he needed. But here’s the more significant thing. He was giving us what we need: pure golf, at the place where it all began. He jumpstarted this week. He gave us what golf, the actual game, desperately needs.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]

22 thoughts on “Lee Trevino: The Last Pure Golfer”

  1. Jacklin, ” Lee, I don’t want to talk today.”
    Trevino, ” I don’t want you to talk, I just want you to listen.”
    The gift that is Lee Trevino just keeps on giving, sharp as a tack @ 82. Amazing.

  2. brandon martin

    The Merry Mex! If I needed one in the fairway to save the mortgage my first call would be to Lee Buck Trevino! When The Hawk sends you prototype irons in search of feedback you know you’re one hell of a ballstriker.

  3. Lee Trevino is a legend in golf in a way that no one else is. His pure joy and understanding of the game, and the golf swing, and his willingness to share, is unrivaled! Yes, he’s a showman, and yes he knows how to work a crowd, but beneath that façade is a true golfer. It’s a shame that he’s never been a golf analyst on TV.

    1. I remember he was in the booth after completing his round at one of the first US Senior Opens that both he and Jack were playing. Trevino had a one shot lead on the 18th hole while in the booth. Jack had about a 6-8 footer to tie. He said “watch for Jack to peak at the putt during his strike.” Jack did, missed the putt. “Give me the trophy!”

    2. He was for several years and was very good at it. From 1983 to 1989, he worked as a color analyst for PGA Tour coverage on NBC television. When he turned 50 he quit announcing and played the senior tour.

    3. He was! On NBC in the US before Johnny Miller and his 2nd career on the Senior/Champions Tour! He was fantastic and sometimes teamed with another legend – Vin Scully!

  4. I will never forget watching Trevino on the range at Turnberry in 1977. A small group of us watched him hit every shot imaginable. One over-served patron was shouting their mouth off down the side of the range. Lee turned to us and said, “I’ll shut him up, a low hooked three iron should work.” The ball never rose higher than five feet off the ground and I swear it missed the man’s ear by inches. Silence regained on the range thereafter.

  5. Well written as always Mike, just the right touch to transport us not able to be there. I’ve watched top pro level golf for 60 years and seen a few shotmakers but Lee had solitary ownership of that elusive “other” level.
    Effortless rhythm of motion, unequaled club face awareness and ball control. Could watch for hours. How cool he still had All that left to put on a show at 82.

  6. Well done Michael. I’ve been privileged to watch him play many times. He had the most unique set of sticks I’ve ever seen for a great golfer. I’m told Hogan had the utmost respect for Lee’s ability. He used to have his main club designer send new models over to Lee to “test out” and get his opinion.

  7. One year at Silverado, Lee hit a shot over a green. In back, there was a particularly buxom blond, obviously having a lot of fun. Lee walked back there, hooked a finger into her cleavage and announced loudly, “Nope, it’s not in there!” Everybody, including the blond, cheered.

  8. My Dad had the great fortune to draw Mr. Trevino as his Pro-Am partner in a 1970’s Andy Williams Classic. Best day of his golfing life, the 2 veterans hit it off, Dad made a few birdies & lots of laughs. I cherish the photos of Trevino & my Dad.

    1. One thing I always find curious is how golf has almost no former greats coaching the new crop. It happens in virtually every other sport. If nothing else, who better to look at your swing and give his thoughts than Lee Trevino?

  9. probably the most underrated golfer of all time…..to watch him hit a 5 iron was mesmerizing….the sound it produced was true perfection….

  10. Fantastic player. Followed him is several Open Championships. A delight to watch and listen to.
    Super article.

  11. Jay Featherstone

    Saw Trevino on the range at T of C at La Costa years ago. He sent Herman out to retrieve his wedge shots from about 100 yards. Herman put a towel in each hand and never moved. Caught every shot I saw with one hand or another. All the while working the crowd. Classic!

  12. Pull a chair up and let Trevino go, his kind will never be seen again in Golf.
    Bamberger you’re the best writer in Golf, write a book on one the best in Golf.

  13. A legend to be sure, but I hope he’s mellowed over the last couple of decades. Back in his PGA and Senior Tour playing days, he wasn’t the most popular golfer with tournament volunteers: cranky, disagreeable, the very opposite of his public image, unless the TV cameras were around. Let’s hope that’s changed. Looks like it has.

  14. In the mid eighties at Tenison Park in Dallas I was on the putting green when a bus parked and twenty Japanese in suits came over. The driver told me their meeting ended and when asked what they’d like to see they named the course where Trevino played. I handed over my putter and they all got in line.

  15. Bruce Broadfoot

    I appreciated Jack’s greatness but always preferred Lee. I carried Lee’s “baseball card” in my wallet for 15 years until I ruined it one day.

  16. I watched him at a Pro Am in Scotland in seventies
    Landed on first tee area in a helicopter
    Hit a driver in the right spot
    He was a great mentor to Sevy

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Sign up for our newsletter!

Never miss a story, new podcast, special event or merch drop.

Sign up today and receive a discount code for 10% your next purchase from the Pit Shop!

Scroll to Top