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It's An Old Man's Game After All
Barry McDermott
August 27, 1984
Lee Trevino, 44, won the PGA with a record-shattering performance
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August 27, 1984

It's An Old Man's Game After All

Lee Trevino, 44, won the PGA with a record-shattering performance

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You can't poison a Mexican.

It was last weekend that a chuckling Marr, the ABC-TV commentator, told that to Lee Trevino, and judging by Trevino, the statement is true. It has been 17 years since Trevino, squat and swarthy, came off the driving range and began to win tournaments with his unorthodox flat swing. What a journey it has been. Trevino has won titles and hearts, been hit by lightning, insulted the best, had two back operations, teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, been married three times, traveled around the world and has hardly ever taken a favor from anyone. He goes his own way, powered by a heart that probably could run a small city, and now, at 44, he's done it again.

Trevino's four-stroke victory in the 66th PGA Championship at Shoal Creek outside of Birmingham last week emphasized once more that he's one guy no one ever will count 10 over. Here he was, with a back so bum he can't practice, forced to seek refuge in the old golfers' home—the TV booth—and yet he could summon up the skill and courage to turn back golf's toughest field on a Jack Nicklaus-designed course that, although just seven years old, ranks with the finest ever to host a major championship.

And, would you believe, for most of the week Trevino didn't even know that first place was worth $125,000? He went blithely about Shoal Creek, constructing his first victory in three years, his sixth major, his first since winning the PGA a decade ago. Trevino played sensational golf. He had only three bogeys and a double bogey in 72 holes, and nary a three-putt. He played the game the way it was meant to be played: down the middle—the only way to survive at Shoal Creek, which has some of the most penalizing rough this side of the Amazon—on the green and in the hole. "It's nice that an old guy can still beat these young guys," he said afterward, perhaps forgetting that one of the men he'd beaten was older than himself, 48-year-old Gary Player.

Trevino's performance was also record-breaking. His 15-under 69-68-67-69—273 was the lowest subpar effort in PGA Championship history, shattering Hal Sutton's 10-under at Riviera in Los Angeles last year, and it was the first time any player had played all four rounds under 70.

Trevino threw cold water on another legend, Player, the little-big, old-young man who had a memorable 63 in the second round, and swaggering Lanny Wadkins, 34, who kept firing until the end. They settled for $62,500 apiece.

"It doesn't even matter what I shoot," Trevino said early in the week. "They don't expect anything from me, anyway." On Sunday, rain and lightning forced a one-hour delay with Trevino and Wadkins, tied for the lead at 13 under, out on the 6th hole with Player. Trevino waited it out in a garage, munching on a brownie. When play resumed, Wadkins took a one-stroke lead through nine holes. Trevino bided his time. "I wasn't nervous, I knew I could win," he said. "I wasn't spittin' cotton."

Trevino has made a habit out of picking up odd clubs and working wonders with them. He won the '74 PGA at Clemmons, N.C. with a putter he'd found in a widow's attic. In his bag at Shoal Creek, Trevino had a new putter he'd bought for $50 at the Dutch Open several weeks ago. Since then he'd been 56 under par for the 10 rounds before Sunday's, sinking "putts from here to Omaha." And when it came time Sunday to do what he does best—make the clutch shot—he put that putter behind the ball, stuck out his chin and made a pair of brash strokes to save par. "The two greatest pressure putts I've ever seen," said Player.

The first was a 20-footer on the 11th hole, which Wadkins had bogeyed. The second was an 18-footer at the par-3 16th. Leading by a stroke, Trevino had put his tee shot in a bunker, while Wadkins hit his tee shot to within 12 feet of the cup. A leader switch seemed likely. But Trevino hit a marvelous explosion and, as Wadkins looked on, dropped his putt for par, after which he spat, as if to say, "Take that, golf. You can't beat me." Wadkins missed his birdie, and followed with a duck-hook tee shot on the 17th. End of tournament.

Most people were surprised when the PGA awarded this championship to Shoal Creek (no Golf Club or Country Club, just Shoal Creek, thank you), having never heard of the place. What they found was a pastoral course bearing the unmistakable Nicklaus imprimatur. Stature in corporate America these days often boils down to how well you know Nicklaus. Hall Thompson, who made a fortune selling tractors, hired Nicklaus to design Shoal Creek. The Golden Bear came to Bear Bryant country and carved a par-72, 7, 145-yard layout in the woods, wonderful in its treachery and beauty. The place is so remote and bucolic that a can of bug spray was put in every player's locker, a 3�-foot rattlesnake was discovered in a parking lot one day, and yellow jacket stings headed the caseload at the first-aid tent.

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