By Michael LeCompte
This is part of an ongoing series in honor of Hispanic Heritage month (September 15-October 15) celebrating some of the Hispanic and Hispanic-American athletes and coaches who have contributed to the games we love.
From an impoverished childhood in Texas Lee Trevino reached the peak of professional golf. Born in Dallas in 1939 and raised by his mother and grandfather Trevino began working in the cotton fields at 5 years old and dropped out of school at 14 to work full-time to support his family.
When he realized he could make $30 a week as a caddy Trevino left the farm fields for the greens. After an Uncle gave him a set of beat-up clubs he began hitting three hundred balls every day after work for practice.
In 1956 at the age of 17 Trevino joined the Marines and served as a machine-gunner for four years. Upon his discharge in 1960 he became a club pro in El Paso, supplementing his income by betting on himself in unsanctioned head-to-head golf matches against other club members.
Trevino turned pro in 1967 and amassed 29 PGA tournament wins, including 6 majors, throughout his career.
At the 1975 Western Open in Chicago he was struck by lightning, resulting in chronic back problems that would plague him for the rest of his career.
Trevino never employed a swing coach at any time during his career, claiming he never met one he couldn’t beat on the links. He was a self-taught player with a style all his own. Although he had a wide-open stance and never drove the ball with power he was extremely accurate with his shots.
In a less politically correct time Trevino was affectionately dubbed “The Merry Mex” and “Supermex” by his fellow PGA golfers. He was always approachable to the fans and was often humorous on the links, livening up the rather staid sport of golf. During a playoff at the 1971 U.S. Open he tossed a rubber snake at Jack Nicklaus before going on to beat him by three strokes. Fans also probably remember Trevino covering a tattoo bearing the name of his first wife with a large Band-Aid during televised tournament play. (He has since had the tattoo removed)
From the cotton fields of Texas to the World Golf Hall of Fame, where he was enshrined in 1981 Lee Trevino set the course for minorities in what before him had predominantly been the “white gentlemen’s game.”