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Mike Downey

Like It or Not, Lee Trevino Is Master of the Masters for a Day

April 07, 1989|Mike Downey

AUGUSTA, Ga. — You were expecting maybe Arnold Palmer?

Lee Trevino! Gimme a break (left to right). On second thought, gimme a gimme. Make my day.

This is as goofy as golf gets. I mean, Lee Trevino leading the Masters! That's like Leon Spinks leading the Daytona 500. The man often feels he doesn't belong here. The man often says he doesn't want to be here. Lee Trevino's opinion of playing golf at Augusta National is something approximating Brigitte Bardot's opinion of killing seals to make fur coats.

So, when I see Lee Trevino, eight months from his 50th birthday, shooting a first-day 67 at the Masters, stop the tournament, I want to get off. Jack Nicklaus was enough. Larry Mize was more than enough. Trevino wins this thing, anything goes. Next year's will be won by Dow Finsterwald. Elvis will carry his bag. Roberto de Vicenzo will keep score.

I mean, come on. Trevino, five under? You're pulling my flag.

Lee Trevino, who has raked in $1,680 in winnings this year? Lee Trevino, who shot 81 and 83 last year here? Lee Trevino, who in 1969 and 1986 and 1988 asked them never to invite him back here? Lee Trevino, who hasn't won anything in five years and has never placed higher than 10th here?

That Lee Trevino?

Lee Trevino, who loathes this club so much that he changes his shoes in the parking lot? Lee Trevino, who in 1974 decided to go fishing rather than play here? Lee Trevino, who in 1987 claimed this tournament wasn't even one of the four majors?

That Lee Trevino?

Si, that Lee Trevino, the testy, zesty Tex-Mex, who changes his mind the way other golfers change tees. This same Trevino once called his 1970, '71 and '74 boycotts of the Masters "the greatest mistake I've made in my career." This same Trevino once called Augusta National "the eighth wonder of the world."

Lee Trevino is one of those people who not only talks a good game, he talks a bad game.

"When you talk as much as I do, you're gonna put a shoe in there once in a while," he said Thursday. "If you never say anything, you never say anything bad. But, hey. You never say anything good, either."

The guy gets up and down in regulation. One year he's up. Next year he's down.

On happy occasions like this one, nobody is more self-deprecating. Trevino teases himself about becoming a bogeying old fogy who has to wear his eyeglasses on a strap around his neck so he won't misplace them, an absent-minded professional who can't even find his own house.

"I've gone to old addresses before," Trevino said. "Forgot that I moved."

As for his golf, it had gotten to be so god-awful, Trevino confessed, that he would have given anything on the eve of this Masters merely to be able to hit three practice shots exactly the same, make the same swing three times in a row.

"A man walked up to me and said, 'I'll bet you won't break 76,' and I wouldn't take one quarter of it," Trevino said. "And I'm a gamblin' man."

Upon arrival, he rated his chances of winning the Masters somewhere between Not Very Likely and That'll Be the Day. He didn't even try a practice round, figuring they would just go out and change the layout on him later that night. Just when you get used to slow greens on Wednesday afternoons, Trevino said, you show up on Thursday mornings to find that "they'd put STP on those things."

Whenever Jack Nicklaus tried to convince him that he could win this thing, Trevino scoffed. "If Jack had had to play my itty-bitty tee shots," Lee said, "he'd have quit golf and opened a pharmacy in Ohio."

For some reason, Trevino's nimble mind could never conquer this matter. He gave up on the Masters early, even though on his first visit, 21 years ago, he was tied atop the leader board with nine holes to play. A year later, he already was saying: "I'll never go play there again. They can invite me all they want, but I'm not going back."

The course never suited him, nor did the snobby club itself. Had he not qualified as a player, Trevino once complained, they would not have let him onto the grounds except through the kitchen. In 1972, after boycotting twice, he stored his shoes and gear in the trunk of his car, rather than use the clubhouse.

Tournament boss Clifford Roberts sent an invitation to have coffee. "I don't drink coffee," Trevino messaged back.

Fifteen years later, after officials had demanded $90 for credentials for the golfer's son, Trevino told the new chairman he would play Augusta no more.

Hord Hardin replied: "We'll miss you, but we'll try to go on without you."

Such a love-hate relationship this has become. Uphill, downhill.

Today, Trevino claims nothing would please him more than to return regularly. Since his five-year Masters exemption from winning the 1984 PGA is about to expire, Trevino needs to place among the top 24 Sunday to guarantee his continued presence. On whimsy more than evidence, he bet Tom Watson he would do it.

This is the one he has never won. Each of the other majors, Trevino has won at least twice. He figures maybe this is his year, what with a new baby daughter, his aching back finally feeling OK, a 22-pound weight drop, and his exemption at stake. Also, this year's U.S. Open will be played at Oak Hill, where Trevino took the 1968 Open, his first major.

He is loose.

"I may come back with three 80s, I don't know. And it won't bother me a bit if I do."

He is tight.

"If I'm leading Saturday night, I might not even show up Sunday, man. I might have a heart attack."

He is sane.

"There's a bounce in my step there hasn't been before. I'm a happy man."

He is nuts.

"I talk to the tee markers. I'm out of it, man."

He loves it here.

"It means a lot, this tournament. It means everything to me."

He hates it here.

"I changed (shoes) in my van. I don't have a trunk anymore," he said.

If you ask me, what Lee Trevino would like to do most at Augusta is play great, but not replace any of his divots.

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