IT TOOK about five holes to realize that I'd been set up. But if you're going to be hustled, it might as well be by one of the best in the business, a man who can take your money and make you smile as he does it. I'm talking about Lee Trevino.
Trevino and I have been running into each other at Texas golf events for a long time and for reasons I'm unable to explain, Lee has befriended me over the last several years, often mentioning that the two of us should hit the links together in Dallas, where we both live. For a while I assumed that he was simply being nice, but earlier this year he explained that he doesn't have many old buddies to play with at home, so he would welcome a game. He extended a formal invitation.
Still, as I arrived at one of the three clubs Trevino belongs to, the men-only Preston Trail (near where Lee hunted rabbits as a kid), I was unsure if he'd show up. But when I made my way to the range, he was already out there hitting balls, and he greeted me with a big "Hello."
At 68 Trevino isn't playing much professional golf these days. The six-time major winner has made only three starts on the Champions tour in 2008 after teeing it up six times in '07. Clearly, his amazing journey from a Dallas shack without running water to the top of the golf world, an ascent fueled by skill and personality, is nearing an end. As we walked to the 1st tee, Lee told me that he gets out about twice a week and usually shoots in the 70s. We agreed on how many strokes he'd give me and made some nominal bets.
I had a bad case of opening-drive jitters, but I hung in there, and the round jogged out with the Merry Mex making a pair of routine pars, while I wasn't unhappy with a bogey-par start. Then, he ripped off the type of play that earned him 58 PGA and Champions tour victories and $13.3 million.
Alternating spectacular iron shots and amazing one-putts, he birdied the 3rd, 4th and 5th holes. On the par-5 6th I struck back, chipping my approach close enough for a tap-in birdie. As if he hadn't noticed, Trevino stepped up and rolled in a 35-footer for eagle. He pointed at me and roared with laughter, and I thought, That's probably what he wanted to do after he chipped in to beat Jack Nicklaus at Muirfeld in '72, ending the Golden Bear's Grand Slam hopes.
After nine holes Trevino had taken only 31 strokes.
I was being had, but I figured there was no way he could keep it up. So when I birdied the par-3 11th (the only hole I won), I whipped out one of his famous postvictory one-liners: "My only goal is to have enough money to buy the Alamo and give it back to the Mexicans." Lee erupted in laughter again.
In the end I shot a respectable 43-45--88. Lee dusted me by a mere 22 shots, a 35 on the back nine giving him a stress-free 66 that bested his age.
Lucky for me, he waved off all bets and steered us toward lunch in the clubhouse, where he still had plenty of stories to tell.