LEE'S FLEAS CHEER 'SUPER MEX' TO VICTORY
Super Mex is what he called himself. Super Mexkin. And there he was out there in the midst of all of that U.S. Open dignity with his spread-out caddie-hustler stance and his short, choppy public-course swing, a stumpy little guy, tan as the inside of a tamale, pretty lippy for a nobody, and, yeah, wearing those red socks. And here were all of these yells coming from the trees and the knolls of the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, coming from all of the other Lee Trevinos of the world. "Whip the gringo," hollered Lee's Fleas, a band of instant Mexicans enthusiastic enough to rival anybody's army, some of them $30-a-week guys like Trevino himself was just a little more than a year ago.
Lee Trevino whipped all of the gringos last week. He mainly whipped a gringo named Bert Yancey, the tournament leader for the first three days, in a head-to-head, you-and-me thing on the final day, the kind of match a hustler really likes; but in so doing, he knocked off everything else in Rochester, including a good golf course, a strong field, a couple of USGA records that looked untouchable, and a $30,000 check.
What Lee Trevino really did, when he won the Open championship last Sunday, however, was shoot more life into the game of golf than it has had since Arnold Palmer, whoever that is, came along. Trevino will not only go out and fight a course for you in the most colorful of ways, he'll say most anything to most anybody. He'll hot dog it. He'll gagline it. And he'll respond. In a gang-some of 30 or 40 visor-gripping Bert Yanceys, most of whom seem to have graduated from the yep-and-nope school of public relations, Lee Trevino had already made himself known to a degree. He had received more pretournament press than anyone simply because he talked a lot and said things like, "I used to be a Mexkin. but I'm makin' money now so I'm gonna be a Spaniard." Well, now, you take this kind of a fellow and give him a major championship and what you've got is instant celebrity.
It all happened in one day, actually, but that is all it ever takes. It happened on Sunday, the last day of the Open, when Trevino went out and did what no one thought he could do—turn Bert Yancey's game into a shambles, one on one, and totally ignore the near presence of Jack Nicklaus. Trevino did it although he had not won an event on the PGA tour, and, in fact, had only been on the tour for a short while—a couple of months last summer and all this season. Which is not so long, especially for a man who has not had a lifelong acquaintance with money. In winning, Trevino further had the audacity to tie Nicklaus' 72-hole 1967 Open record of 275 and set a record of his own by becoming the first player ever to shoot four straight rounds under par in an Open: 69, 68, 69 and 69.
The last round began with Yancey leading at 205, Trevino second, a stroke behind, and Nicklaus a distant third at 212. Yancey and Trevino started off as if they were playing for the Tenison Park municipal title in Dallas, which is a place where Lee used to hustle $5 Nassaus and where the U.S. Public Links tournament will be played in July. Yancey drove into the right rough, and Lee hit into the left trap, and they both made bogeys. Trevino steadied a trifle, but Yancey kept it up. He hit a big hook at the 3rd under a tree, chipped up nicely but missed the five-footer for his par. At the 5th he hit into a bunker, came out to within three feet but missed again. At this point he had lost the lead for the first time since Thursday afternoon. Trevino was one ahead, and Nicklaus, who had birdied the 3rd and 4th up ahead, was only three strokes away.
One more birdie right in there somewhere could have made a gigantic difference for Nicklaus, but he had already demonstrated in three previous rounds that he couldn't read consistently the subtleties of Oak Hill's greens. Hit the shots, sure. Nicklaus was hitting more greens in regulation than anyone; he was, in fact, playing superbly. But never did the putts fall, and they weren't to fall the rest of the day. Makable birdie after makable birdie slid past the holes, and a great amount of pressure was taken off Trevino.
On each hole Trevino could look ahead and see that Nicklaus wasn't catching fire, and on each hole he could look over in the woods or in the bunkers or around the cups where poor Bert Yancey's game had gone thataway. ("I guess I just must have choked," Yancey said later.) Bert was plodding dismally to the 76 that most people in the gallery would have bet their periscopes that Trevino would shoot.
If there was a big hole that wrapped it all up it was the 12th. They got there with Trevino having just birdied the 11th with his longest putt of the tournament, a 30-footer, and with the noise and joy of it still ringing in him. The crowd sensed he was the winner now. He had a three-shot lead, and he played this comparatively short par-4 nicely with a good drive and a pitch into the flag, only 18 feet away. He rammed this one down to go one under for the round—and four great big strokes ahead of Yancey and five in front of Nicklaus. It was, as a matter of fact, all over, even though Lee had to slash out of the rough on the last two holes to save a couple of pars and the record.
"I was tryin' to get so far ahead I could choke and still win," Trevino said afterward. And then he started firing all of those lines that made the press tent roll with laughter, and made him everybody's darling.