In June 1968 a small, squat Mexican-American posed for international sports photographers at Oak Hill Golf Club, Rochester, New York. He had just won one of golf's biggest events - the U.S. Open. The legend that is Lee Trevino was born. In order to understand the magnitude of Lee Trevino's achievement, it is necessary to look at the life-story behind the man.
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Raised in a run-down shack on the outskirts of Dallas, Trevino spent his early childhood occasionally attending school and more frequently helping his family earn a meagre living growing onions and cotton in the dusty fields surrounding their home. An absent father was just one of the many hardships which Lee, his sisters, mother and grandfather had to contend with.
Unsurprisingly, there was no golfing tradition to be found within the Trevino family tree. His initial introduction to the game stemmed from youthful curiosity and ingenuity. The 7th fairway of the Dallas Athletic Club golf course was just 100 yards from the Trevino family's front door and young Lee began earning a few dollars finding golf balls in the course's high rough.
Soon he could be found hanging around the caddie shed and at the age of eight he began caddying for the local players. The caddies had three short holes behind their shack and it was there the young Trevino actually started playing the game- using old, discarded clubs and making bets with his fellow workers to add some spice to the proceedings. Trevino's killer instinct took root - his poor circumstances obviously making money a prime motivator.
On his seventeenth birthday Trevino enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. The previous few years had been a time of confusion and change for him. The Marines provided the perfect, stable environment for a directionless young man. Trevino still looks back fondly at the comradeship and fun of those years spent in the company of his peers. Of course he was by no means a model soldier - he had his fair share of disciplinary problems. However, by the fourth year of his service he had matured sufficiently to make the rank of Lance-corporal and, through an administrative error, found himself in the Special Services Unit issuing athletic equipment and driving the football team bus. More importantly, he spent the last eighteen months of his service playing golf with the officers in the afternoons.
On returning to civilian life, Trevino wasted little time continuing his relationship with the game. With the encouragement of Hardy Greenwood, a Dallas driving-range proprietor and also his employer, he began working for his Class A card. For the next five years his life revolved around working and playing in golf clubs. Many bets were made and, according to Trevino, most were won. His killer instinct was being continuously refined, serving him well during his first full-time season on the Tour in1967 when he finished in 45th place and earned over US$26,000.
Trevino's awkward style convinced some critics his stay on the Tour would be a short one - he would simply fade away quietly like hundreds of hopefuls before him. Completely self-taught, Trevino's style was anything but smooth. During his swing he appeared to be frantically striving to retain his balance - however, at the critical moment when the face of the club strikes the ball, his body was perfectly co-ordinated. He did not take long to silence his critics, winning the U.S. Open the following year at Oak Hill. The next six years saw him build and consolidate his reputation as one of the game's stars. Indeed during a heady four-week period in 1971 Trevino won three of golf's biggest competitions in succession - the U.S. Open, the Canadian Open and the British Open.
It seemed Trevino's star would continue to rise and dominate the world of golf - nobody could have predicted the next instalment of the Trevino saga. On June 27 1975 playing in the Western Open at Butler National Golf Club in Chicago, Trevino was struck by lightning - a freak accident which permanently damaged the flexibility and sensitivity of his lower back's vertebrae. For a man who had relied substantially on physical strength as part of his style it seemed to most observers that his career had come to an abrupt halt. But a series of painful operations enabled Trevino to renew his relationship with the game, albeit in a more diluted form. Displaying his customary tenacity and practicality, he adjusted his playing habits to accommodate his unfortunate disability. Appearances on the Tour began to be carefully timed and practice shots were reduced from over 1,000 balls to a mere 50.
Within two years Trevino scored an impressive victory in the Canadian Open (a feat he would repeat in 1979) and later stunned the golfing world when he lifted the U.S. P.G.A. trophy at the age of 44 in 1984.
A man celebrated for his humour and showmanship on the fairway, off-course Trevino is a surprisingly humble and private individual. The roots of his impoverished childhood run deep, a fact witnessed by his quiet generosity to numerous charities where Trevino demands complete confidentiality about his philanthropy. A complex individual, his humour serves both to ease the pressures of the game and to deflect prying eyes from his private life. Never a player to throw in the towel, 'Supermex' is one of golf's true heroes.
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