US Open countdown: Lee Trevino validates early Open win, beats Nicklaus in playoff

71st U.S. Open/June 17-21, 1971

Merion Golf Club East Course, Ardmore, Pa.


x–Lee Trevino, United States 70 - 72 - 69 - 69 280
Jack Nicklaus, United States 69 - 72 - 68 - 71 280
Jim Colbert, United States 69 - 69 - 73 - 71 282
Bob Rosburg, United States 71 - 72 - 70 - 69 282
George Archer, United States 71 - 70 - 70 - 72 283
Johnny Miller, United States 70 - 73 - 70 - 70 283
Jim Simons, United States (a) 71 - 71 - 65 - 76 283

x–won in a playoff; a–amateur

If anybody thought Lee Trevino was a one-year wonder — he captured the 1968 U.S. Open at Oak Hill — 1971 put that way of thinking to rest. The jocular golfer won seven times that year, including this U.S. Open, and later won the British Open and Canadian Open.

He became the first golfer to hold all three of those national open championships in the same year. Only Tiger Woods has matched that feat since — in 2000.

And Trevino won this championship in an unimaginable way — posting three consecutive under-par rounds in the 60s on this short-but-difficult layout, including a 69 in the playoff with Jack Nicklaus, who shot a 71.

As good as Trevino was at Merion East, it was Wake Forest senior Jim Simons, an amateur, who led going into the final round after shooting a third-round 65.

But Simons faltered on the back nine. Needing a finishing birdie, he hit his tee shot on the 18th hole in the rough, and ended up making double bogey.

Trevino took the outright lead with a birdie at the 14th hole, but he left the door open by missing an 8-foot putt for par on No. 18.

Nicklaus had a chance to win in regulation but missed a 15-footer for birdie on the finishing hole.

This playoff was remembered as much for Trevino’s antics before the match than anything that unfolded during it. With both golfers waiting in sweltering heat on the first tee, Trevino grabbed a toy rubber snake out of his golf bag and began waving it at the gallery.

Enjoying the moment, Nicklaus asked his counterpart to toss him the snake, which Trevino did. It served as a historic moment of comic relief.

Two poorly executed bunker shots at No. 2 and No. 3 put Nicklaus in an early two-shot hole, and he never would draw even again.