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A FIRM HAND ON A CAREFREE CAT
Myron Cope
June 17, 1968
Golfer Lee Trevino, who as an unknown finished fifth in last year's U.S. Open, likes to spend money as fast as he earns it, but his wife Claudia keeps the key to the bank
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June 17, 1968

A Firm Hand On A Carefree Cat

Golfer Lee Trevino, who as an unknown finished fifth in last year's U.S. Open, likes to spend money as fast as he earns it, but his wife Claudia keeps the key to the bank

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He shot 69-67-136, the lowest local qualifier score in the nation. Next, he finished second in the sectional at Dallas, proceeding from there, on borrowed money, to the Open at plush Baltusrol in New Jersey. "Jack Duffy!" the caddie master called through a microphone to the caddie yard. "You've been drawn. Your professional is here, and he wants you immediately."

Duffy shuffled into view, a 40ish, tournament-hardened veteran. He looked over Trevino as if to say, "Well, there goes my chance for a piece of the money."

Listlessly, wordlessly, Duffy trailed Lee through a practice-round two-over-par 72, confidently expecting to see an 80 before long. But in the next three days of practice he saw instead a 68, a 71 and a 70. By daily stages Duffy quickened his pace, first drawing closer to his professional's heels, then abreast of him and finally out front, authoritatively leading the way. At last he spoke. "Kid," he announced as Lee concluded his last practice round, "I'll tell you something. These guys can have Nicklaus, Palmer and Casper. I'm ready to go with you."

Lee did not share Duffy's optimism. He phoned Claudia in El Paso and said, "Honey, I've just blown the Open. I shot a 281, and I'm going so good that I can't have anything left for the tournament." Baloney, said Claudia. She ordered him to shoot another 281. Lee went out swinging, sustaining himself each day on peaches and plums, eaten in his motel room. He finished with a 283 for fifth place and $6,000. Back at Horizon Hills, the members tossed down drinks on the house. Meanwhile Lee handed Duffy $250 that he had hoarded for that purpose; he then ate another peach, endorsed his check and mailed it to Claudia, who opened a bank account for herself. Later he would pry $100 from Claudia and send it to Duffy as final payment.

From Baltusrol, Lee flew to the Cleveland Open, arriving with $15 in his pocket. "Can I pay you Thursday?" he asked the lady registrar collecting $50 entry fees.

"You just won $6,000," she reminded him.

"I know," Lee said, "but my wife's got it all, and she's promised to send me a little."

In his heart Lee yearned to be back at Horizon Hills, knowing the members stood waiting to throw a party in his honor. Distracted by his thoughts, he arrived at the 36th hole, where he three-putted from six feet away and missed the cutoff by a stroke. He flew home and got joyously drunk.

Except for the Cleveland Open and the American Golf Classic, Lee Trevino finished in the money in each of the 13 PGA tournaments he played last year, closing the season with $28,700 in winnings. His face creased by a broad smile, enjoying every moment of tournament golf, he has brought to the tour a breezy presence that already has created a Trevino cult. The press tent clamors for his ingenuous interviews. Last August at the Westchester Classic, where he had a 67 rained out yet won $8,125 in seventh-place money, a band of Connecticut Italians more or less adopted him—and have continued to follow him around the country even after discovering he is not a paisano. Lee's Fleas, they call themselves.

"Nobody enjoys playing golf like I do," Trevino insists, and he's probably right. On his first day at the scene of the Masters this year he put in 36 holes of practice, then played nine holes on a pitch-and-putt course. After a shower and an evening of cards with a few of his Fleas he wound up at midnight on a par-3 course, going nine holes in a sports jacket and alligator shoes.

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