Friday, March 17, 2017

The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Trevino -- The Hispanic Yogi Berra of Golf

It's March Madness which means that during our lunch hour the restaurant we were in had several monitors displaying NCAA basketball playoff games. During one of the commercial breaks we were reminded that The Masters, one of pro golf's premiere events, is just around the corner. This triggered a debate between two of the men at our table. Topic: What is the greatest single sporting event championship in the world? No one dared suggest Super Bowl, though I was inwardly wondering whether soccer's World Cup might qualify. The golfer at our table declared it to be the Masters. His opponent placed his bet on America's Cup, whereupon this comment was made: "Yacht racing? That's like watching paint dry" along with several follow-up barbs.

While these jokes were being made at the expense of America's Cup, my mind slid back to a handful of golf-themed memories from my youth. Golf had been one of my father's passions, so we were introduced to the game quite early. When we were kids in Cleveland he'd drive us to a certain stretch of forest adjacent to golf course where he'd have us do a scavenger hunt for golf balls. He knew exactly where to have us look, because a few of these may have been his at one time.

I later caddied for a couple years while in high school, and enjoyed the benefit of playing for free on Mondays. Though my skills never advanced beyond being a hack, I enjoyed the game and followed the pro circuit enough (via Sports Illustrated and televised tournament golf) to know who the name were. My dad was part of Arnie's Army, the nickname given to the fans and followers of that golf great whose chief adversary (and respected friend) was the "Golden Bear" Jack Nicklaus. I myself liked the South African Gary Player, in part because he always wore black, like an outlaw of sorts.

And then, there was Lee Trevino.

Lee Trevino
Here's the story about Lee Trevino that most stood out for me. Before turning pro he used to make money by putting money on the game. I believe I read in Sports Illustrated that he had a giant Pepsi bottle that he used to play golf with. He would bet against other golfers that he could beat them using only a Pepsi bottle against their full set of clubs. He purportedly made pretty good that way. If I have my facts right, this may have been what pushed him to compete in the pros.

His achievements were many, and in 1971 he became the first player to win the U.S. Open, British Open and Canadian Open the same year. In fact, he did it in a three-week span.

Trevino also had another unusual threesome. He has been purportedly struck by lightning three times, one of them during the 1975 Western Open. The odds of being struck by lightning during your lifetime, for what it's worth, are 300,000 to one, though I'm guessing your odds might improve considerably if you're routinely out on a fairway when storms roll in.

Lee Trevino grew up very poor. He has no memory of his father who abandoned the family while he was very you. At age five he was helping bring in an income picking cotton. How he emerged from these roots to become an elite golfer is a tale for another place in time.

Baseball fans are well acquainted with the Yogi Berra's Yogi-isms. (Susie and I frequently recite his restaurant quip, "No one eats there anymore because it's too busy.") Lee Trevino's way with words can be equally entertaining. Here are ten Trevino statements to get you started.

1. The older I get, the better I used to be.

2. If you are caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of lightning, hold up a 1-iron. Not even God can hit a 1-iron.

3. Pressure is playing for ten dollars when you don't have a dime in your pocket.

4. When you're poor, you know nothing about the future, you know nothing about the world, nothing that goes on outside 300 yards around you.

5. You're Mexican until you make money and then you're Spanish.

6. Golf is a game invented by the same people who think music comes out of a bagpipe.

7. My swing is so bad I look like a caveman killing his lunch.

8. I'm not out there just to be dancing around. I expect to win every time I tee up.

9. I'm not saying my golf game went bad, but if I grew tomatoes, they'd come up sliced.

10. Every golfer should come to the first tee with fourteen clubs, a dozen balls, a handful of tees, and at least one great golf story.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Give it your best shot.

Photo courtesy Creative Commons.

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