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Kenny Moore
December 18, 1989
Lee Trevino, joining the rich Senior tour, says the best is yet to come
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December 18, 1989

It's Nifty Being 50

Lee Trevino, joining the rich Senior tour, says the best is yet to come

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Trevino cherishes his privacy. He has been absent not just from the Augusta National clubhouse—which he avoids out of an instinctive dislike—but from all clubhouses for 20 years. His tone is edged with terror when he cries in explanation, "There are golfers there. [To fully appreciate the tone here, substitute rattlesnakes for golfers.] And they'll come over with a thousand questions. And you have to be nice!"

So he stays in. And because he does, Arnold Palmer, George Archer, Phil Rodgers, Chi Chi Rodriguez and a hundred or so others knew just where to send his birthday card. A yard square, it came to him in his room, showing Snoopy fainting at the mention of his age, and bearing the signatures and japes of a generation. "Aw, hey, that's nice," Trevino said, touched, scrutinizing the names intently. "There's Arnold, and Doug Ford, and Jim Feree, and the old steel man, Walt Zembriski...."

There was even a bribe. "We took up a collection, $150,000 not to play," wrote Butch Baird. "Will you accept?"

He would be a fool. The Senior tour has grown so rich that Bob Charles has won $613,387 this year, and Orville Moody, $579,985.

From the vantage of his couch, Trevino observes things that have changed, and some that haven't, in his first half century. The Senior tour, for instance. In words that are more gospel song than sermon—fast, loud, rhythmic and delivered with conviction—Trevino explains why money gushes into the senior game and why the pro-am remains the greatest fund-raising device since the room tax: "Golf is the only sport where a 67-year-old can compete with an athlete in his prime. It's the only human sport that can be fairly handicapped. Name another. You can't do it. So golf is the only place where that corporate head can compete with the top players."

Golf is extraordinary too for how well its champions weather. "No ordinary golfer of any age can beat the best 50-year-olds," says Trevino. So the great names have virtually untarnishable appeal. "The Senior tour will get even bigger," Trevino continues. "It will approach the size and money of the regular Tour. Commissioner Deane Beman may not like it, but it will happen."

No matter how gilded, the Senior tour will never offer the rare and terrifying pressure of a Masters or a U.S. Open. "No," says Trevino. "On the regular Tour you had to scratch and claw to establish your record. These guys have done that. They're all established. Now there will be less pressure than the regular Tour. I thought I'd be nervous here, teeing off, but I wasn't at all."

In 1968, after winning his first U.S. Open, Trevino shouted, "I'm gonna play golf until I'm a hundred years old!" Since then he has often spoken of his love of the game, and almost as often he has immediately added that he could not make nearly as much money doing anything else. One guesses he doesn't want to talk too much of love, so he switches to something crass.

One guesses wrong. Trevino does not separate the sport from its spoils. "Twenty-five years ago I couldn't have said I love the game," he says. "There was no money in it then. It's easy to say I love this game when it's made me rich and famous. It's like saying I love a beautiful woman who happens to have 40 million dollars. Subconsciously I know the reward's at the end of the play.

"Why did I put in the practice, why do I look forward to the Senior tour? Because I'm going to make a hell of a lot of money." Pause. "What I'm going to do with it, I don't know...."

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