Sports

US Open countdown: Lee Trevino’s first professional victory was a major surprise

68th U.S. Open | June 13-16, 1968

Oak Hill Country Club East Course, Rochester, N.Y.

Leaderboard

Lee Trevino, United States 69 - 68 - 69 - 69 275
Jack Nicklaus, United States 72 - 70 - 70 - 67 279
Bert Yancey, United States 67 - 68 - 70 - 76 281
Bobby Nichols, United States 74 - 71 - 68 - 69 282
Don Bies, United States 70 - 70 - 75 - 69 284
Steve Spray, United States 73 - 75 - 71 - 65 284

All you need to know about Lee Trevino and the role he played on the PGA Tour for many, many years was his quote after winning his first major title at age 28, and his first professional tournament.

“I’m happy to win the (U.S.) Open,” Trevino said. “It will make me rich.”

This fun-loving jester produced some of the best one-line zingers in golf. He was suitably nicknamed, “The Merry Mex” by his colleagues.

But his sense of humor also gave a clear glimpse into his poor background. Born in Dallas, he lived with his mother and grandfather, who was a grave digger. Rather than attending school, he worked in the cotton fields at a young age, then moved on to shining shoes and caddying to support the family.

It was as a caddie at Dallas Athletic Club that he picked up golf, often playing a short three-hole course behind the caddyshack.

When he was 17, Trevino enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps but admitted he didn’t really do anything but play golf with the colonels or contend at Armed Forces tournaments in Asia.

After his discharge, Trevino ran a pitch-and-putt course, and would often wager with the patrons he could post a better scoring using a jumbo-size soft drink bottle than they could with clubs.

A year prior to winning the 1968 national open, he was making $30 a week as an assistant professional at Horizon Hills Country Club in El Paso, Texas.

Needless to say, when Trevino teed off at Oak Hill with 19-year-old caddie Kevin Quinn, a college student from Rochester, few gave them a chance to contend, much less win a U.S. Open.

But he was easily the most consistent golfer playing during the week, and became the first player to shoot four rounds in the 60s at a U.S. Open.

Trevino trailed Bert Yancey by one stroke heading into the final round, but the overnight leader bogeyed the fifth hole, then really began showing nerves by missing three 3-foot putts to fall out of contention.

Trevino birdied the 11th and 12th holes to soar into the lead, and he closed out his round with a pair of tremendous par-saving efforts at the final two holes.

He would go on to win 29 times on the PGA Tour, including six major titles. In four of those majors, Nicklaus would be the runner-up.

Sam Snead, at age 56, tied for ninth to record his final top-10 showing at the U.S. Open.

todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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