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Scott Ostler

This Day, Trevino Plays Almost as Well as He Talks

July 17, 1987|Scott Ostler

MUIRFIELD, Scotland — Lee Trevino, perhaps alone among the planet's 10 zillion deadly-serious golfers, plays the game as originally intended. For fun.

Therein, no doubt, lies the tremendous appeal of Lee Trevino to the golf fan. He is a freak of nature. Where other golfers tread the links followed by the thunder of tension and conflict, Trevino skips along to the music of a vaudeville drummer's rim shots.

Trevino is old now in golf years, no longer capable of sustained brilliance but no less the little boy on the golf course.

And occasionally he can still golf. Thursday, Trevino sizzled around the old Muirfield course in four-under-par 67, three strokes behind first-round leader Rodger Davis. If Trevino could pull this off, surge ahead and win his third British Open, he would be the oldest Open winner, at 47. He would take it. At his age, he doesn't look to the future.

"At my age, I don't even buy green bananas," Trevino said.

Although he doesn't lack confidence, Trevino doesn't bet on himself anymore.

"The only bet I ever made, I bet on myself in '72 (at the British Open here, which he won)," Trevino said after his round. "I shot a 73 the first day, the odds went up and I bet again. There were six couples over here, and we all bet on me. You may remember the celebration party. The bookmaker showed up with a suitcase full of pounds. It was about 35 degrees, and he was perspiring heavily."

Thursday, it was Trevino who was hot. He didn't have the greatest audience, but no matter. His theme song could be, "I Talk to the Trees."

He was teamed with Jumbo Ozaki of Japan and Gordon Brand of England. Ozaki doesn't have a great command of English. If he understood any of Trevino's nonstop comments and quips, he registered no reaction. Brand is a serious fellow who managed to smile often at Trevino's comments. Trevino took up the slack, doing most of the laughing at his own running commentary. "He certainly has got the gift of gab, hasn't he?" Brand said.

In the press tent, an official quipped to Trevino, "Maybe you could win this tournament if we could find you a partner who would talk to you."

Trevino shot back, "If I could get someone to listen to me. I talk to the bugs. I talk to my clubs."

Regardless of the audience, it was a remarkable round for a man who has lost a lot of his zest for the game.

"Desire's got a lot to do with it," Trevino said of his 1987 record. He has missed the cut in 6 of 10 tournaments, and finished higher than 26th only once.

"I don't practice anymore. I'm going to start in December of '89, because I turn 50 (and become eligible for the Seniors Tour). I don't want to quit completely for two years. But it's not like it used to be.

"In '72 when I came here, I worked two weeks in Central Texas (practicing) to defend my (British Open) title (won in '71). Nicklaus was going for a Grand Slam, and that gave me something to shoot at. I was younger and I had much more desire. I'm not going to take two weeks off to prepare for it like I did."

Why bother? His game is perfectly suited to the seaside links courses of the British Open. He hits low, under the wind, and rolls the ball up onto the hard greens.

He might not be able to win on American courses but he could win here. After a practice round Wednesday, Jack Nicklaus said, "I found myself marveling at him afresh. He's got to be the straightest player I ever saw. He never shut up once and he never missed a shot--well, just once, when he was in a bunker at the 16th and he had no one near enough to talk to."

Loneliness is not likely to be Trevino's problem the next three rounds, though. Age is. He'll need some help.

He played well Thursday despite a lack of wind on the course, but he'll need some serious blowing by the local gale gods to win this tournament. He learned to play in the winds of Texas.

"People talk about Chicago," he said. "Hell, the wind doesn't blow in Chicago. It blows in Dallas; there's nothing to stop it. You can smell the refried beans from El Paso, 680 miles away."

The windier and colder, the better for Trevino. He knows the Scottish weather will come through for him. He has faith.

"I've seen it drop 25, 30 degrees here in an afternoon," he said. "The Open is one of the few tournaments where you can go out in a short-sleeve shirt and come in with skis on."

He loves the course, so plain and straightforward, just like the course where he learned to play pressure golf by playing for money he didn't have.

Three decades removed from those humble golf beginnings, Trevino never tires of talking about his roots.

"I was brought up on a course like this in Dallas," Trevino said. "It was so hard, you could never land the ball on the green. The lower you hit it the better. The first time I came here (the British Isles) was 1968. I took a fancy to these courses. It was my type of game."

Emphasis on the word game. Other players come to the tournament with jaws thrust forward, prepared for mortal combat. Trevino comes with arms outstretched, as if paying a visit to an old and dear friend, one who will laugh at his jokes and maybe even waft him to another shot at golfing glory.

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