Lee Trevino has long cast a wolfish eye in the direction of the Senior PGA Tour. He describes it, leering with comic greed, as a golfing heaven where players are carried from shot to shot in whirring chariots, where no one is cut after the second round, where players amiably divide millions of dollars in purses, all the while displaying the character and fullness of their seasons.
"I'm tired of playing against the flat bellies," Trevino says, cackling. "I'm going to go play against the round bellies."
In preparation, he played a heavy schedule of regular Tour events in 1989, struck hundreds of practice balls a day and dropped his commentator's job with NBC to make time for the 30 Senior tournaments he plans to play in 1990.
His competitive nerves were certified last April when he led the Masters for two rounds and finished tied for 18th. "I expect to win five Seniors tournaments or more the first year and shoot some very low scores," he said.
On Dec. 1, Trevino finally turned 50, making him eligible for last week's GTE Kaanapali Classic on the Hawaiian island of Maui. But when the time arrived, Trevino didn't want to go. His mother-in-law, who lives in Connecticut, had undergone abdominal surgery, and his wife, Claudia, who had planned to accompany him to Hawaii, instead flew to join her mother. But first Claudia talked Lee into playing as promised. This took some doing, because Trevino had not once been separated from Claudia—in the six years of their marriage—or from their 10-month-old daughter, Olivia.
"I miss them so much that mentally I'm not on the golf course," he said in Maui.
Last Thursday, Trevino seemed like any other new kid on the block: homesick and distracted. His first two holes as a senior were bogeys. Then he righted himself and shot a respectable 69 to tie for sixth. He was three under par through nine holes on Friday, but two three-putts and some missed opportunities on the back nine left him with another 69, six strokes off the lead. "My putter got me," he said. "My irons were O.K., my wedge was O.K., the driving was O.K. It was the putter."
After play each day, he escaped up the West Maui coast to his suite in the celestially serene Kapalua Bay Hotel. "When I get into the room, I turn into a pumpkin," he said.
Wherever his room may be, Trevino stretches his back with the aid of a battered, five-foot-long wooden pole. He has needed such therapy since 1976, when he had surgery for a herniated disc. He also does sit-ups and leg raises. He dines in his hotel room, reads history, watches nature documentaries on TV and is asleep by eight.
He cannot be coaxed to the beach. "There are large things in that ocean," he says. "There's a shark out there that likes Mexican food." This seems to be the obligatory Mexican joke. If you don't seem wild about it, it is the last.