GROWING UP IN THE ROUGH made Lee Trevino a superb golfer who amassed 27 wins on the PGA Tour. His childhood home lacked plumbing and electricity but sat near a fairway of the Dallas Athletic Club; the young Trevino, a natural-born hustler, first made money from the sport by retrieving lost balls and reselling them. Later, betting enhanced his income and helped him develop his consistent—if idiosyncratic—game. (“You don’t know what pressure is,” he is fond of saying, “until you’ve played for five dollars a hole with two dollars in your pocket.”) His sense of humor also set him apart. Asked once how he planned to spend his prize money, he quipped, “I may buy the Alamo and give it back to Mexico.”
He was born Lee Trevino on December 1, 1939, in Dallas and later was given the middle name Buck. He never knew who his father was.
He quit school at fourteen to work full-time at driving ranges and country clubs—mowing greens, polishing clubs, caddying. During a stint with the Marines in Okinawa, he was recruited for Special Services—to play golf with officers. He turned pro in 1960.
In an early betting gimmick, he would sucker lesser players by offering to play a hole or two using a quart-size glass Dr Pepper bottle instead of a club. The stunt later led to a lucrative advertising contract with Dr Pepper.
He moved to El Paso in 1966. Two years later he won the U.S. Open, breaking 70 in every round, a tournament first, and scoring 275 for 72 holes, tying Jack Nicklaus’ record. In 1971 he won the U.S., Canadian, and British Opens—all in a single month.
He constantly plays to the gallery. He once hid a plastic snake in his bag and then pretended to discover it in the rough. Another time, he showed up at a British tournament decked out in top hat and tails.
On June 27, 1975, at a course near Chicago, Trevino was struck by lightning. Despite severe injuries, he was playing again three weeks later.
At the 1981 PGA Championship, he forgot to sign his first-round score card and was disqualified.
He never won the Masters and, because he dislikes the course, twice refused to play in it.
He has designed golf courses in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Mexico. Since joining the Senior Tour in 1989, he has logged 28 wins and pocketed almost $8 million. The father of six, he currently lives in Dallas with his third wife, Claudia Bove.