Lee Trevino’s Perfect 1971 U.S. Open
by Jeff Skinner
As a kid growing up in the suburban New York metropolitan area you learn a few things. One is a quick explanation that you don’t live in “New York City” because that is what everyone hears when you say New York. And if you’re a sports fan in you learn to read the newspapers backwards.
The New York Daily News and The New York Post, tabloids that they are, have good sports sections and the back page was always their “front page” so I always turned there first. The New York Times is another matter and always required a little more effort because of its double page format.
Anyway, I’ve carried that habit on to my weekly issue of Golf World and as usual this week I wasn’t disappointed. Golf World’s Editor-in-Chief, Jaime Diaz “Final Say” column occupies the last page of Golf World and this week’s is a joy to read. Diaz has been around this game a long time and grew up a Lee Trevino fan.
In this week’s column Diaz recounts a phone conversation he had with his boyhood idol after Trevino watched, for the first time, the Golf Channel’s replay of his 1971 U.S. Open playoff victory over Jack Nicklaus.
“Oh man, I didn’t remember putting with that style,” the familiar voice effused into the phone. “Getting all close to the ball and upright, with my eyes right over it and with my elbows in and my feet pigeon-toed? I guess that was one Wilson 8802 I didn’t bend flat.”
Trevino made a series of big putts on the back nine of the playoff and recently told Golf Digest that for the rest of his career he searched to regain the feel he had on the greens at Merion. So he could only laugh at how he could have strayed from a method so distinct and successful. “The day after watching it I went right out and copied myself,” he said. “My yips went away! Forty years too late, but at least I got rid of the belly putter!”
Trevino has said that the win over Nicklaus was the one win that made him believe he belonged with the big boys. It was a huge day in his career. It was a big day for Diaz too, “On the day of the final round, I was a 16-year-old who’d finished high school two days before. While I revered Nicklaus, I was a Trevino man, also using a black PowerBilt driver, swinging from an open stance and keeping the club low toward the target. I suffered when Trevino missed his eight-footer for par on the 72nd, and turned away from our Zenith when Nicklaus stroked his 15-foot birdie putt for the win. The next morning I played a qualifier for the Big “I” junior tournament, and my hot-putting 76 was the lowest score in the field. Having just passed my driving test, I drove home triumphant, arriving in time to watch Trevino birdie the 12th to go up by two, and win with aplomb. One of those perfect days.”
I can imagine what that recent phone conversation between Diaz and Trevino was like…another one of those perfect days.