After he won his first U.S. Open golf cham¬ pionship, Lee Trevino joked that he would use his prize money to “buy the Alamo and give it back to Mexico.” One of the greatest and most personable players in golf history, Lee Trevino helped break down the racial and class barriers that had long made golf an exclusive game for wealthy white people.
Born near Dallas, Texas, Trevino grew up in poverty. His mother was a maid, and his grandfather, who helped raise him, worked as a grave digger. They lived in a shack that had no electricity or running water.
The home was adjacent to a golf course, and as a boy, Trevino collected stray balls and sold them to golfers for pocket change. When his uncle gave him an old club and some used balls, he started teaching himself to play. Sometimes Trevino sneaked onto the country club golf course to play a few holes. Other times, he practiced on a makeshift course in his backyard.
Trevino left school after the seventh grade to work and help support his family. He took a job on a golf course as a caddy and a greens keeper, which gave him the opportunity to practice and refine his skills. His favorite ploy was to challenge the country club members with a makeshift club he built. To their sur¬ prise, he usually won.
He spent a few years in the U.S. Marines, where he continued to improve his golf game. He then settled in El Paso, Texas, where he became a country club pro, giving lessons to members. Trevino soon joined the professional golfing tour, and before long, he became a major contender. In 1967, he was named Rookie of the Year after he finished fifth at the U.S. Open. The next year, he won the Open.
For the next eighteen years, Trevino was one of the most dominating players on the tour, with earnings of more than three million dol¬ lars. For fourteen of those years, he had a streak of at least one major tournament victory every year. He won the U.S. Open again in 1971. He also won the British Open twice and the Canadian Open three times. He became a crowd favorite for his wisecracking yet friendly demeanor. His fans, nicknamed “Lee’s Fleas,” called him “Super Mex.”
In 1975, Trevino and two other golfers were struck by lightning. They all survived, but not without sustaining injury. As a result of the accident, Trevino suffered from severe back pain that plagued him throughout the rest of his career.Trevino never forgot his hard times growing up. During his career, he donated much of his earnings to charitable organizations.