Lee Trevino is a now retired golfer. His years on the green have earned him a place as a golf legend for eternity. We take a look back at the early years of Trevino. Where he got his start in the sport, and the many achievements he’s made over his career.
In 1939, Lee Trevino was born in Dallas. Joining his mother and grandfather in a Mexican-American family that suffered through poverty. Now considered one of the biggest golfing legends the world has ever seen. One of the funniest personalities that professional sports has ever witnessed, he’s had a long journey to get there.
Today, Trevino is 78 years old and although he’s officially retired from professional golf. He still enjoys hitting the balls around. With a number of accolades, achievements, and records under his belt. It’s unlikely that any golfer could come close to the legacy he’s created.
Not only is Lee considered one of the best golfers in the world. He’s also known as the best Hispanic golfer. With a proud Mexican background, ‘Supermex’ was able to prove this sport was more than just Americans and Europeans. Showing that golf was indeed a hobby and skill that everyone could get involved in.
Lee’s Early Life
Lee was born into a poor family in Texas, never knew his father who left after he was born. Living with his mother and professional gravedigger grandfather in a house that didn’t have proper plumbing or electricity. He started work at age 5 in the cotton fields. He attended school sometimes put more focus on earning income to be able to contribute to his family’s finances.
When he was young, his uncle gave him a set of golf clubs which got his interest. He would spend hours practicing and sneaking into various golf clubs in order to practice. Developing on the natural talent he already had.
Eventually, Trevino scored a job at Dallas Athletic Club working as a caddy when he was 14 years old. He made the decision to leave school and pursue the career full time. Which saw him caddying and shining shoes, earning around $30 a week for his efforts.
After he was finished work for the day, he would practice his swing. According to Trevino, he hit around 300 balls a day which included after work and during his caddying duties. All of this time spent practicing his new favorite passion would pay off. But first, he would take a detour on his way to becoming golfing royalty.
Time in the US Marine Corps
Trevino made the decision to enlist in the US Marine Corps when he was 17 years old, in 1956. During his time, he served as a machine gunner and spent four years serving the country. Before he was discharged in December 1960. He spent a lot of time enjoying his passion for golf and sharing it with others.
He spent a lot of time playing golf with the Marine Corps officers. And even attended various tournaments that were organized for the service. During one tournament in Asia. He played alongside famous golfer Orville Moody. Who would then go on to join him on a PGA Tour in the 1960s. Once he finished his service with the Marine Corps. He headed back to Texas and started work in El Paso as a club professional.
The Beginnings of His Golfing Career
The first big qualifier that Trevino scored was for the 1966 US Open. Although he didn’t do as well as he would in later games, tying for 54th place. It was certainly the start of something. When he qualified again the following year. He progressed all the way to finishing fifth place and also earned himself a $6,000 paycheck. That earned him the title of Rookie of the Year by Golf Digest and cemented his name in history.
By 1968, his skills had improved even further and he won the US Open at Rochester, New York. Just four strokes ahead of Nicklaus. From there, he won 29 times on the PGA tour and had six majors under his belt.
His most famous rivalry was with Jack Nicklaus, and this is often regarded as peak time in his career. There was a period in the summer of 1971 where Trevino had a number of victories over 20 days. Which included defeating Nicklaus over 18 holes which earned him the 1971 US Open win. From there, he won the Canadian Open and The Open Championship (British Open). These successive victories made him the only player to ever get all three.
Notable Victories and Achievements
During the PGA Championship of 1974. Lee won his fifth major championship and then took home his sixth and final major at PHA Championship 1984. In 1969, he had played his last Masters tournament for some time and vowed never to return. Which he didn’t for a few years, due to his dislike for the course. Due to his huge success, Trevino was in position to make such claims and also to refuse invitation. It’s something he said he later regretted.
It wasn’t just his wins on the green that made him so famous. As everyone was bestowing him with honors and awards. In 1971, he won the Hickock Belt as the top professional athlete for that year. Sports Illustrated gave him the honor of Sportsman of the Year. He also won Athlete of the Year by ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Signaling a very major time for Trevino.
A Champion in Humor and Golf
There’s no doubt that Lee Trevino will be remembered for his exceptional golfing skills. his humor is something that will stand out even more. Any interview with him, whether it was on live TV. Or in a magazine was bound to have a few one-liners scattered throughout. And you could always count on him to have some witty quote to say.
One particular incident where the world got to witness his funny side. During the US Open Playoffs in 1971 at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore. His daughter had placed a rubber snake in his bag which Trevino then threw at fellow golfer Jack Nicklaus. Not only did it make everyone laugh. Trevino went on to win by three strokes, making the day even more memorable.
A memorable time in Trevino’s career was when he was struck by lightning at the 1975 Western Open. He was on the green holding an umbrella when lighting hit it. And rendered him unconscious for a while and unable to speak.
Following the incident, he would make many jokes about his luck. Which further highlighted his great sense of humor. “I've been hit by lightning and been in the Marine Corps for four years. I've traveled the world and been about everywhere you can imagine. There's not anything I'm scared of except my wife.”
Fun Facts About Lee Trevino
When you’ve been around as long as Lee Trevino has, you’re bound to have collected some pretty fascinating stories. Here are just some of the amazing facts we’ve learned about the Mexican-American golfer.
- Lee considers himself pretty superstitious and he’s careful about the gear he plays with. “I won't use a yellow tee. Yellow is the color of cowardice. I'll hit a 3-wood off the deck first.”
- He last had a fistfight in 1978 with the Mayor of El Paso who hit him over the head with a bag of pennies after a bet he had won. Trevino clocked him for the prank and it was aired on TV, which earned him a lot of congratulatory phone calls following.
- When he was growing up, his gravedigger grandfather gave him some advice about how to live his life. "Son, the next time you go by the cemetery, remember that a third of the people are in there because they got into other people's business."
- He made a cameo in Adam Sandler movie Happy Gilmore, and he claims that’s the only reason that young people recognize him today.
- In 1968 at the US Open, Trevino became the first player to shoot all four rounds under par which ended up winning him the entire tournament.
Forever A Golfing Legend
Although there have been many big personalities in sports, none will be remembered as fondly as Lee Trevino. His ability to come up with a witty one-liner and never take himself so seriously while also being one of the most impressive players to ever hit the scene just makes him that much more enjoyable.
Lee Trevino still plays golf to this day, and although his professional career days are behind him he says you’ll never be able to stop him. It’s rare to find such a charismatic and funny sportsman these days, which will make Supermex stand out, even more, when it comes to the golfing greats.