Oct. 05–He described it as a “hell of journey,” one that stemmed from a baby blue 1949 Ford and a run-in with a cop.
In 1955, Lee Trevino, who’d dropped out of school two years earlier — who was over a decade away from earning his PGA Tour card and launching his legendary career — was slinging hotdogs and Cokes at Knollwood Golf Club in Irving, Texas.
His friend was a caddie, one with a keen eye.
“(A)nd my friend comes in — he was caddying — and he says, ‘You know, there’s a car out in the parking lot with spoke hubcaps,” Trevino said Wednesday, remembering the moment. “And he said, ‘They’d fit your car perfect.'”
The 100 or so people listening to Trevino tell the story at Belfair Plantation — where he was the keynote speaker at Cherrington Brotsky Conscious Capital financial seminar — chuckled as the man spun his yarn.
He’d launched into the story moments before when someone asked him what he’d learned growing up poor in Texas, working in cotton fields when he was in kindergarten. And he told them that, at the time, he didn’t realize he was poor, and wouldn’t realize there was “a whole other world” out there — until he joined the Marine Corps.
But before he could get to the part about the Corps — really, when he took up golf, where he learned responsibility, what helped him achieve some level of personal polish — he had to talk about his baby blue ’49 Ford.
The car had no hubcaps.
His friend knew where he could get some.
“So he takes the hubcaps and throws them in the trunk of my car,” Trevino said. “And we put them on my car after we (left Knollwood), and they looked gorgeous on this ’49 Ford, a baby blue car going down the street.”
The next day Trevino drove to work … but forgot to remove the hubs before pulling into Knollwood’s driveway.
A cop on a motorcycle was waiting.
“(A)nd he said, ‘Where’d you get those hubcaps?'” Trevino said. “And I’ve never been one to tell any stories, and I said, ‘Sir, my friend and I borrowed them.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you borrowed them in the parking lot of the club.'”
The cop gave him the man’s address and waited while Trevino returned the hubs and apologized.
“That was the hardest job I’ve ever had to do,” Trevino said. “And I learned a lesson there.”
“When I drove away, the policeman was waiting on me and he said to me, ‘How old are you son?'” Trevino continued. “I said, ‘Sixteen, sir.’ He said, ‘When are you gonna be 17?’ And I said, ‘In a month.’ He said, ‘I wanna send you to someone, and I want you to talk to him.’
“And it was the recruiter for the Marine Corps.”
In a 2009 interview with Golf Digest, Trevino said the Corps “was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.” Sports Illustrated’s Barry McDermott wrote in 1981 that “he never owned a new golf ball until he went into the Marines.”
He entered the Corps when he turned 17. He trained in San Diego. He served four years.
Four years later he won the first tournament he ever played, the 1965 Texas State Open. A couple years after the he earned his Tour card. And after being name Rookie of the Year in 1967, he won his first major the following year, the U.S. Open.
He won the U.S. Open once more. The British Open twice. The PGA Championship twice, as well. He never won the Masters. He played the Heritage on Hilton Head nine times between 1969 and 1989 but never won — his best result was a tie for 11th place in 1983.
Still, he finished with 29 Tour wins.
And he went head-to-head with — and bested — Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
“It made me realize you have to take responsibility,” Trevino, 77, said, when asked how his time in the Corps prepared him for the Tour.
“I wasn’t exactly polished,” he continued. “But I did get a little bit of the rust off.”
Wade Livingston: 843-706-8153, @WadeGLivingston
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