It’s sometimes a bit tricky to meet one of your heroes. I’ve met a few that have fallen (sometimes literally) a little short, so I’m always a little tense when I run across someone I’ve always looked up to.
So it was great to meet six time PGA Champion Lee Trevino and feel like he was an old friend immediately.
Trevino spoke at the Salvation Army’s 2015 Doing The Most Good Luncheon held at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Fort Worth on April 28. The press – me – got a few minutes to speak with him before his keynote speech. I went over to say hello to Trevino and start our conversation, but instead he headed toward me, grabbed my arm, mumbled a quick “hello,” then said, “I want some coffee. Want some coffee? You like coffee? Let’s go get some coffee.”
That, all before I could get a word out. He marched me toward the coffee bar. I asked him the question I had prepared, “What’s your favorite memory of Colonial?” I asked that question because, in just a few weeks the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial will begin and, hey, who doesn’t want some quotes from a former winner (he won it twice).
You would have thought I asked him how much he loved his mother.
“Colonial? Colonial is the greatest. I love Colonial. No, really, Colonial was the first tournament to feed us. We used to go home, take a shower and come back for dinner. It was always a good dinner, too. They do it right.”
Sometime later my new best friend got called away to do his job – give the keynote speech.
Bobby Patton, honorary co-chair of the event, is part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and chairman of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. Patton introduced Trevino as “a poor kid who taught himself how to play a rich man’s game and became a champion.”
I think that was what attracted me to Trevino as a kid. Much like Tiger Woods when he burst on the scene, Trevino didn’t look like he belonged. He didn’t have the best clubs or the best clothes but still found his way into the rarefied air of the nation’s snobbiest sport. And, of course, he was Hispanic, not exactly commonplace in America’s country clubs at the time.
Trevino told the crowd he never felt like he belonged. That is, until he beat the great Jack Nicholas in an 18-hole playoff in the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, oft cited as one of the most exciting playoffs in golf history. Trevino defeated the Golden Bear. “I felt like I belonged in the fraternity then,” he said.
Trevino’s career both on the PGA Tour and the Senior Tour has seen a lot of highs and a few lows. The biggest low was probably when he was struck by lightning, causing back problems that continue to this day. He jokes about it and continues to issue one of his best lines about what he told PGA officials whenever they tried to convince him to come into the clubhouse during storms.
“I told them I’d just hold up a 1 iron. Not even God can hit a 1 iron.”
Laughter, particularly from anyone in the crowd who has played golf.
Trevino pauses like the pro he is.
“God was listening.”
He then discusses his long and difficult recovery from the lightning strike.
By the end of his speech, my new best friend had about 600 more best friends. That’s all right. After all, I got to have coffee with him.