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Dan Jenkins
August 19, 1974
Cracking jokes as he went, Lee Trevino won the PGA title, even forcing a smile from old rival Jack Nicklaus, the man he beat
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August 19, 1974

He Left Them Laughing

Cracking jokes as he went, Lee Trevino won the PGA title, even forcing a smile from old rival Jack Nicklaus, the man he beat

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Old Super Mex had been missing for a while, and the game of professional golf had suffered from the absence. There had not been enough laughter, or nearly enough of his brilliant shotmaking, or enough of the sense of real combat that he brings to a championship when he is out there thrashing around with a chance to win. But in some North Carolina hills last week, Lee Trevino came back again, wisecracking every step of the way, and doing that thing he has done so often in the past—dragging Jack Nicklaus along behind him. This is how Trevino won the PGA, the last of this year's major titles, by throwing his game up against that of Nicklaus and writing the same old ending.

It was a strange tournament in a strange place, and what it finally came down to on Sunday was a Trevino-Nicklaus confrontation of the kind that has taken place so frequently. Not always head to head, but at least emotionally. In the two U.S. Opens and the two British Opens that Trevino had won, it was Nicklaus, essentially, that Lee had to beat. And on the outskirts of Winston-Salem in this PGA, on a golf course that only Trevino expressed any devout love for, they were in the same threesome for the final 18, separated by a fragile stroke, and all Nicklaus did was inspire Trevino to play near-perfect golf.

When they reached the last nine holes, which is where most big championships are decided, Trevino did that gutty, hustler's thing he is so well equipped to do. He outdrove Nicklaus when he had to, stuck his irons inside of Jack's when he had to, and he liked to say, as always, that it wasn't because he was playing Nicklaus "personally" but because Jack stimulates him. Everybody who believes that can crawl inside a Titleist.

From tee to green, Trevino's 69 on Sunday was the finest round he played all week, even better than the four-under 66 he shot on Friday that catapulted him into contention. That was back in the days when people like John Schlee were leading. On Sunday, when it was going to count the most, Lee hit just about every fairway and missed only two greens.

And why was he throwing it at the flags?

"What I decided was, this was the last big one of the year, and I'm the 54-hole leader, and I got to go out and play with Jack, so I'm gonna go for everything," Trevino tried to explain. "So I just tried to nail every flag, and I did most of 'em."

The day began with Trevino holding a one-stroke lead over Nicklaus and Bobby Cole, who was destined to "go South" eventually—doing so with a whiff and a double bogey at the 71st—and through most of the afternoon it was a case of Trevino hoping to hold back Nicklaus, a fellow Lee keeps calling "the greatest there ever was."

There was both drama and humor in the first five holes. Trevino started the day with a birdie on the heels of Cole, who sank a wedge shot for an eagle two. Nicklaus bogeyed the third, but birdied the 4th and 5th holes, leaving Trevino with the one-stroke lead he began with.

"Jack tried to give me two there," Trevino laughed. "When he birdied the 5th he accidentally put his putter in my bag, so he couldn't find it when he reached for it on the 6th green. I said, 'Hey, man, you're tryin' to give me 15 clubs and a two-shot penalty. Tell you what, I'll take the two if you promise me you won't use that thing the rest of the round.' "

There was even more humor and a sort of genteel bit of sportsmanship at the final hole after Nicklaus and Trevino had both hit fine tee shots and even better approach shots to the last green, Jack with a 20-footer hoping for a tie, and Trevino with an 18-footer, hoping for a Nicklaus miss and a Trevino two-putt for victory at 276.

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