by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

MUIRFIELD, Scotland — He has always had a great face. Thick black hair, dancing eyes, a grin that could open a steel-plated cookie jar. Look at him in a happy moment, he can blind you with brio. Look later, and you may see deeper inside, the poor Mexican kid hustling golf shots, the teenage Marine with the girl’s name tattooed on his arm, the yakking prankster who charmed the sports world in winning six major championships. The years have put creases in that tanned skin now, yet when he laughs, the age vanishes. A great face will do that. Lee Trevino could still pick money from your pocket and look cute doing it.

It would be nice to see that face in the winner’s circle again. You felt that when Trevino came into the tent Thursday after posting a 67 in the first round of the British Open — a four-under-par score that tied him for second with Ken Green and Bob Tway, two guys young enough to be his sons.

History would hand Trevino a ticket to victory here, for he won this title on this very course in 1972. Fashion would welcome him back gladly, because
“The Veteran Comeback” (Jack Nicklaus, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jimmy Connors) is all the rage these days, and Trevino, 47, hasn’t won anything since the PGA in 1984.

“How might it feel to win this tournament at your age?” a British reporter asked.

“Who knows?” he answered. “At my age I don’t even buy green bananas anymore.”

Here is the real reason golf could use a Trevino victory. Plain and simple.

It needs the jokes. Golf needs a pepper-upper

Lee Trevino on the British Open: “This is the only tournament where you go out in a short-sleeved shirt and come back on skis.”

Lee Trevino on Dallas: “Windiest city in America. When the wind blows in, you can smell what they had for dinner in El Paso.”

Lee Trevino on gambling: “The only time I ever bet on myself was here in 1972. I got six friends to bet on me, too. I remember, because at the victory party, the bookie showed up carrying a suitcase.”

Good. Good. More. More. It is sad when a golfer’s clothes are more colorful than his personality, but that is what has happened to this sport lately. A new breed of studious, disciplined, well-groomed young studs is slowly putting us to sleep. Take Scott Simpson, the recent U.S. Open champion. Scott Simpson is a clean-cut man, a fine young golfer. Scott Simpson is as exciting as paste.

Ah, but Trevino. Here is a guy who once hustled Texans with a Dr Pepper bottle taped to the end of his club. A guy who has been hit by lightning, had two back operations, teetered on bankruptcy, found putters in attics and junk heaps.

Look at him out there. Thursday he was paired with Gordon Brand Jr., a Scotsman, and Masashi (Jumbo) Ozaki, from Japan. Ozaki barely speaks English. But there was Trevino on Hole 5, yakking about the fairway, on Hole 10, yakking about the grass, on Hole 14, yakking about, what, the space program? Foreign relations?

“Did Ozaki understand you?” he was asked.

“I think so,” Trevino said. “He just kind of nodded and bowed a lot. He’d probably do the same thing if I was talking in Spanish.” He’s best with an audience

Jack Nicklaus jokes that Trevino hits best as long as he can talk non-stop to somebody. Fine. Send him out with a studio audience today. Because if Super Mex ever has a good shot at another major title, it might be right here, this weekend. Muirfield. This is a straight, low-baller territory — no water, bunkers guarding the fairways, you can roll onto most greens — and Trevino, with that crazy chop stroke, likes it low as it goes. “I still can bump and run with the best,” he said, proudly.

No matter how young or boring. Of the eight players on the leader board Thursday, Trevino was the oldest by 11 years. Spectators here applauded wildly as he approached each green, not only because it’s like cheering for your favorite uncle, but because they remember his dramatic 1972 Muirfield win, in which he made a series of astounding chip shots and ended Nicklaus’ hopes of a Grand Slam.

Nice. Trevino has missed the cut in six of 10 tournaments this year, including the Masters and the U.S. Open. He tells people he is just waiting to turn 50 and join the Senior Tour. “I don’t practice anymore,” he admitted.
“When I came here in 1972, I had spent two weeks in central Texas just practicing hitting in the wind. . . . “

He sighed. “I was much younger then.”

Thursday, however, he looked young. Thursday, he looked good. And after meeting with the press, he got into a white golf cart headed back for the clubhouse. A reporter ran after him with one more question.

Too late. Trevino was already rolling away, laughing, giving the driver his Donald Duck impersonation. The reporter shook his head. For one day, anyhow, the great face was back where it belonged, quacking up.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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