Lee Trevino is 74 years old, but he still knows how to put on a show for golf fans.
Trevino displayed his humor recently while appearing at a promotional event for the Champions Tour’s Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf tournament, which runs Friday through next Sunday in Ridgedale, Mo.
“Listen, my toughest thing is to go to sleep at night, just because I can’t wait to wake up and hear what I have to say,” Trevino said with his usual smile.
While he often has crowds laughing with his jokes, it is Trevino’s golf game that made him famous.
Trevino first got into the game as a caddie as an 8-year-old in Dallas, and he worked at a driving range after dropping out out of school before high school. The range’s owner, Hardy Greenwood, saw how good of a player Trevino was and became his golf tutor as well as a father figure.
After doing a stint in the Marine Corps, Trevino returned to Texas in 1960 and tried to make a living in the game.
Trevino got his big break when he got his PGA Tour playing card in 1967 and qualified for the U.S. Open. He finished fifth with a score of 283 at Baltusrol in New Jersey, 8 shots behind champion Jack Nicklaus. Trevino won $6,000. That was part of the $26,472 he won as a rookie, placing him 45th on the PGA money list.
The next year, he became the first player to shoot in the 60s in all four rounds of the U.S. Open, and his score of 275 at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., tied Nicklaus’ Open scoring record.
“I don’t remember very much,” Trevino later said. “I guess I was in shock. I know I wasn’t saying much.”
Of course that isn’t normal for Trevino.
After all, this is a guy who during one tournament was told by pro golfer Tony Jacklin, “Lee, I don’t want to talk today.”
Trevino replied: “I don’t want you to talk. I just want you to listen.”
As funny as he could be on the course, Trevino was just as good a player. He won 29 times during his PGA Tour career, including the U.S. Open again in 1971, the British Open in ’71 and ’72 and the PGA Championship in ’ 74 and ’84.
Trevino also owns 29 Champions Tour wins, including the 1990 U.S. Senior Open in another battle with Nicklaus.
“It’s always a feather in your cap to beat Jack,” he said, “because he’s the best. I was on a mission.”
Trevino hasn’t played in an official Champions Tour event since playing in the Legends of Golf in 2011, when it was in Savannah, Ga.
But he’s back in this year’s Legends of Golf, teaming up with Mike Hill to play in the Legends Division of the 54-hole, two-man team competition. They have won five Legends of Golf titles during its history.
This year’s event will feature one round at Top of the Rock — the first time a par-3 course has been used in an official PGA Tour event — and two rounds at Buffalo Ridge, formerly known as Branson Creek.
Trevino said fans will see good golf from the older players in the field, particularly at Top of the Rock.
“We can still play and still hit shots, but we don’t hit as far,” Trevino said. “We can play with (Phil) Mickelson (at Top of the Rock). I wouldn’t be scared of him on a par-3 course.
“I know we don’t play like we used to. But you watch us on a par-3 course and I’m going to tell you something, we’re going to look like we’re 30. We can still play. The only reason we can’t compete (on the PGA Tour) is we don’t hit it far.”
Trevino said that improved equipment, such as graphite shafts, also make the game easier for seniors.
“Thank goodness for all the new equipment, so at least we can hit it as far as we did when we were 30,” Trevino said. “If the new equipment hadn’t come in, we’d already quit because we’d only be hitting the ball 180 yards.”
While playing some on a par-3 course and using top-of-the-line equipment may be good for Trevino’s game, he also felt young again while taking in the atmosphere during his first visit to the area next to Branson and Table Rock Lake.
“How do you get it any prettier than this?” Trevino said. “All the water and the beautiful trees.
“I grew up and worked on a golf course (in Texas), but I never knew a golf course could be this green. This is magnificent.”
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Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf
WHAT: 54-hole Champions Tour tournament
WHEN/WHERE: Friday through next Sunday in Ridgedale, Mo.
PARTICIPANTS: Players expected to compete in the Champions Division include Tom Watson, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer. Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Jim Colbert highlight the Legends Division for golfers 65 and over.
PRO-AMS: On Wednesday and Thursday, 52 teams with one pro and four amateurs will compete in at both courses. Players at Top of the Rock will play just nine holes and then try a fishing or shooting competition.
MORE INFORMATION: Details on tickets and other information is available at bigcedarlegends.com.