It's tough enough winning golf tournaments without guys trying to take away the titles you've already won. That's the message Lee Trevino carried from last week's Statute of Limitations Classic—better known on the Senior PGA Tour as the Tradition—in Scottsdale, Ariz. It's hard to say which was more exciting: Trevino's one-shot triumph over Jack Nicklaus on the Cochise Course at Desert Mountain or his spirited defense of his 1965 Texas State Open victory in the press tent.
After Homero Blancas's second-round 66 assured him a Saturday-morning "Three Amigos" pairing with Trevino and Chi Chi Rodriguez, everybody in the tent wanted to know how far back Blancas, a former University of Houston golf star, went with old Tex-Mex. "Lee was a professional when I won the Texas State Open in 1965, and he finished second," Blancas said. "I beat him in a playoff."
About a half hour later Trevino grinned in disbelief and said, "He claimed he won? No, I won that tournament. I won the Texas State Open in 1965 and in 1966, and I'd be willing to bet a hundred thousand dollars on that. Beat me in the Texas State Open. Is he crazy?"
No, but Blancas is 54. At that age, you start losing things—keys, the scissors you had in your hand when you answered the phone, even your recollection of which tournaments you won. As it turns out, Blancas was low amateur at the '65 Texas State Open.
Maybe a bunch of senior golfers shouldn't be sent out in the desert to play. The Cochise Course is a surreal landscape of boulders and cacti, where a simple round of golf can sometimes seem like a trip on magic mushrooms. Rodriguez's mind wandered for just an instant on the 8th hole on Sunday, and before he knew it, his chances of winning had all but dried up. Nicklaus seemed a soaring eagle one moment, a wounded bird the next. Even Trevino had his moments of disorientation—as on the 13th hole on Sunday, when his golf ball moved on him.
If you want mirages, how about the rest of the field? Nicklaus took the lead with a first-round 65, and the effect was to pull a curtain across 78 of the 80 other golfers. Nicklaus hadn't entered a PGA Senior event since defeating Rodriguez in an 18-hole playoff at the U.S. Senior Open at Oakland Hills last July, but the Golden Bear putted superbly on Thursday and was on target for a tournament-record 64 until his tee shot on the 7th hole (his 16th because he started at the 10th hole) hit a boulder and ricocheted into the pond.
A second-round 72 left Nicklaus in a third-place tie with Blancas and J.C. Snead, but he still seemed a good bet to become the first player to "threepeat" a tournament on both the regular PGA and Senior PGA tours. (Nicklaus won three consecutive Walt Disney World Opens, beginning in 1971.) After all, he designed Cochise, and it suits his game. And who could forget last year's Tradition, which Nicklaus won despite trailing Phil Rodgers by 12 strokes after two rounds?
O.K., Blancas could. But who else?
Some of us were paying attention, though, and we noticed that more than half the field shot par or better on Thursday, and after play on Friday, 41 players were within 10 shots of Rodriguez, the second-round leader. Rain had soaked the course earlier in the week, and Thursday's round was played under the clean-and-place rule. Players like Trevino and Blancas, who play low-trajectory shots, could stop the ball on the terraced greens.
Nicklaus, meanwhile, complained that his golf ball was behaving erratically, "exploding" off the club face when hit upwind. "It just goes right through the wind and goes forever," he said on Friday, after flying a six-iron over the 17th green and into the desert for bogey. Seems he changed from one type of Maxfli ball to another three weeks ago at the regular tour's Honda Classic, and while the old Maxfli tended to dive when struck downwind—not good—the new one bore upwind to a fault. Said Nicklaus, "I've just got to learn more about that golf ball."