“You want to make the same stroke on most putts, but sometimes it pays to customize it. On left-to-right putts, lean your hands down the target line in an exaggerated forward press. As with full swings, this will help you close the face through impact.”
– Six-time Major winner Lee Trevino (Born Dec. 1, 1939)
This past Sunday, while my wife, Nancy, and I were watching the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It dawned on me that Thanksgiving was almost over and December was coming up fast – Tuesday to be exact. While I am not a trivia nut, I did remember that Dec. 1 is the birthday of one of my all-time favorite golfers, Lee Trevino. Is it really possible that SuperMex is 81 today?!
In the Fall of 2019, I was lucky enough to watch him give a putting lesson and play five holes with him at The Kansas City Country Club.
Below is what I sent out to my golf buddies about that experience:
Three weeks ago on a Monday afternoon, my friend, Chuck Hunter, called and said, “We’re just here for a fun round. Come over here (KCCC). Get a cart. We will be on the backside.” “We,” as it turned out, included Lee Trevino, who was scheduled to play a round in support of the First Tee along with Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus the following day.
I was looking forward to shaking his hand and being entertained for a few holes. As two-time Major winner Fuzzy Zoeller said, “Lee’s got more lines than the Illinois Railroad.” True to reputation, over five holes (Nos. 10, 11, 12, 13 & 14) he talked before, during and after his swing. The topics ranged from golf course architecture to Tiger’s physical ailments to how well his friend Tom Watson is swinging the club these days, to oscillating greenside fans (He is pro fan.) to numerous babysitting stints for a very young Michael Watson while his dad was on the practice range to his and Chuck’s mutual friends, to his bad knees to marital tips to how to properly putt (“Push the handle toward the hole.”) Let’s put it this way: there were no moments of silence.
There was, however, the sound of purity, near perfection, whenever he hit the ball. As Chuck has always said, “The pros are so much better than you think. Their consistency is hard to imagine. Their ball striking is unbelievable.”
To be honest, I went over to the club more excited about listening to Trevino than watching him play. Yes, he had won six Majors and 29 times on both the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour, but he was 79 years old. I was thinking, “How good can he be these days?”
Playing from the Silver tees (regular men’s), he is on in regulation on the tight 395-yard, par 4 No. 10 and makes an easy par.
On the 360-yard No. 11, which is extremely uphill and moves hard left-to-right, he hits his drive 250 yards right down the middle. He missed his 12-foot downhill, birdie putt by an inch.
On No. 12, (a downhill, 205-yard par 3) he was on the green in regulation, but 30 feet past the pin. Easy two-putt par. By the way, while on No. 12’s tee box, he said, “This is a beautiful hole.”
On the 400-yard No. 13, he was in the middle of the fairway 140 yards out. He walks away with par.
Although his always-go-to-fade swing has been called “unorthodox,” “unique” and “unusual,” it remains incredibly reliable -- no muss, no fuss, no miss. On the 200-yard, par-3 14th (see photo), he pulled out a 25-year-old 2 wood and faded it to within 7 feet of the pin, which was back left. Yes, he made the birdie putt! Just for record, Michael Watson hit a 6 iron on 14 and put it within 10 feet – and didn’t’ make the putt.
Unfortunately, he had an evening engagement, so that was the end of the day’s entertainment. Now that I think about it, the word “entertainment” doesn’t begin to describe that 90-minute encounter. Trevino was certainly entertaining to listen to, but his golf – setup, tempo, balance, follow through – was AMAZING! As Butch Harmon said 35 years ago, “The one thing that stands out in my mind about Lee Trevino is his trajectory. It was always the same. He could control the trajectory of his shot through the air better than anyone I’ve ever seen.” From what I could tell, not much has changed. At the age of 79, he is still a remarkable ball striker and putter, which is why I went looking for Tips & Lessons From Lee:
“There is no such thing as natural touch. Touch is something you create by hitting millions of golf balls.”
“Ball-striking comes from a tremendous amount of confidence. And confidence comes from working extremely hard.”
“I always loved hitting a low fade to a back-right pin with the wind howling from the right. Not many guys could get it close in that situation, because they kept it low by just putting the ball back in their stance. You see, playing the ball back turns you into a one-trick pony -- you can only hit hooks. The best way to hit it low -- and I've never talked about this before -- is to stand closer to the ball. Flex your knees and crowd the ball so your hands are only a couple inches from your body. You'll get the feeling that you're going to hit a shank, so you'll instinctively straighten your legs and raise your upper body through impact. When you stand up like that, your hands tend to get ahead of the clubhead, delofting the face and setting up a low cut. If this sounds complicated, read it again -- it's worth it.”
“Trouble shots usually require you to do something crazy with shot trajectory, and that's a guessing game even for the best pros. Keep in mind, the trouble shot you're about to try is a make-or-break deal. You have only one shot at it, and the consequences are more disastrous than on a shot from the fairway. Seve (Ballesteros; 5-time Major winner) might have played poker when he was in trouble, but the average guy should stick to checkers. Take the shortest route back to short grass, and move on.”
“You never hit up on a wood because if you hit on the ball it puts an over spin on it and drives it back into the ground. That’s called a topballing. You have to hit down on the ball, even with a fairway wood. You want to take a divot if you can, a small divot.”
And finally: “Golf is an individual sport. You’re the judge, the jury, and you’re the one going to prison. You’re the one who has to make all the decisions.”
Happy 81st Birthday, Mr. Trevino! Thank you for all of the great memories!