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Jim Murray

Shark May Have Bitten Off More Than He Can Chew

June 15, 1986|Jim Murray

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — You might want to strike the ball like Ben Hogan. You might want to putt like Billy Casper, approach a green like Miller Barber, swing like Sam Snead.

But I imagine if there's a golfer you'd want to look like, it would be Gregory John Norman. The sloped shoulders, the wide back, the tiny-to-invisible waist, the great shock of white-blond hair, you imagine a statue could look like this.

Greg Norman could walk into a room full of middleweight prizefighters, weightlifters, gymnasts or flamenco dancers and not be embarrassed.

You know how most golfers look--department-store Santa Clauses, Irish bartenders, streetcar conductors, staff sergeants. They look in poor light like your brother-in-law. Plumbers have to be in better shape.

Not Greg Norman. You wouldn't mistake him for anything but what he is--a top athlete.

You could chop wood with his face. You could win a war with his backswing. He doesn't look like a guy you'd want to cheat at cards or make a pass at his girlfriend or steal his wallet. He'd look at home slicing through white-water seas grinding up everything that came in his path. Golf's Jaws.

They say the great white shark is the most perfect eating machine ever created, a scavenger so awesome it attacks ships, de-limbs sailors.

The great white whale is equally mythological, but if there ever was a Moby Dick in cleats, it is this sleek platinum creature from a black lagoon Down Under. Greg Norman looks like something you'd radio for help for in a small boat.

If there is a Captain Ahab in this 86th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills this week, it is Lee Buck Trevino. This relentless old mariner of the links has been stalking terrors of the deep on golf courses for almost 25 years.

If it weren't for Lee Buck, Jack W. Nicklaus would have long since surrounded this game even more than he has.

Every time you think you might just as well hand the game over to Jack, there's Lee Trevino banging shots off pins at the Firth of Forth or the Main Line of Philadelphia and saying: "Wait a minute, Jack, what about me?"

Lee didn't learn his game in the cloisters of a university or junior golf at pater's country club. Lee learned it the way guys learned to live stealing hubcaps or hawking candy. Lee scuffled, hustled, faded you, raised you, lived by his swing and wits. Nobody bought Lee Trevino a matched set of monogrammed clubs and a gold money clip when he was growing up. Lee got his irons out of a barrel, and his woods had cracks in them, and he played you with a taped soda pop bottle if the bet was right.

"Pressure is not playing in the U.S. Open for somebody else's money," Lee Buck has said. "Pressure is playing for $50 with a guy with a scar on his cheek when you only got $2 in your pocket."

Pressure is playing for the rent money, not the yacht money or Lear jet money. Lee Trevino has played for both. He's big trouble at either.

He doesn't walk around a golf course, he swaggers around it. Lee always looks like a guy trying to scare up a game or a press bet. You get the feeling he could beat you left-handed if the price was right.

The 86th U.S. Open looked like just another shark bite for the great white Greg right up till about 5:10 p.m. Saturday. Lee Trevino took that little fadey swing of his out of the bag on hole No. 13, a tight little 377-yarder the locals call, "The Roadside" (they name holes in this tight little isle the same as they do on that one in Scotland).

Greg Norman, the golf player who looks like a Garden main eventer or a refugee from a surfboard, was enjoying a three-shot lead and a walk in the park up to the time he sent a mid-iron soaring over the teardrop green. From there he was looking at a double-bogey.

It was the only opening Trevino needed. Lee is a guy who can count the aces, who knows when to bet his play and bump the raise. He fired one of his patented soft left-to-right shots that you could land on an umbrella without breaking it, and it came down two feet from the hole and stopped.

Greg Norman was now looking at a Trevino birdie. Lee tapped it in and gave Norman his sunny, "You're pressed!" look as if to say, "Match that around New York!"

It was a three-shot swing on one hole. Trevino gained one, and Norman lost two.

I would not like to see Mario Andretti in my rear-view mirror on a race track. I would not like to have to go down and check a noise in the cellar in a castle in the Balkans. I would not like to find a rattlesnake under my bed.

And I would not like to go into the final round of a U.S. Open with a one-stroke lead over Lee Trevino. The bleached bones of guys who have tried it line every cattle trail in Texas.

You'd better have carfare home in your shoe when you take on the Mex at his own game. Jack Nicklaus found that out at Oak Hill in 1968, Merion in 1971, Muirfield in 1972.

Lee Trevino is 46 years old. That's not old enough. That has nothing to do with that little sweeping wheel through the ball that has been emptying wallets and piling up trophies and winning 27 tour tournaments since 1967, when he showed up at an Open and had to walk to the course in his cleats or sleep in his car to make ends meet. It may take more than a shark to scare Lee Buck. Where he comes from, they give sharks two-a-side --and the first bite.

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