"If I proved anything, it's that you don't have to be born into the country club set."
When he was a young boy, Lee Treviño lived in a farmhouse located behind a golf course. Enchanted by the game but too poor to play, he studied the forms of the golfers from his backyard. His studying paid off. Treviño went on to become a professional golfer, and dominated the game in the early 1970s. By the time he retired from the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour in 1985, he had won thirty tournaments and had earned more than $3 million. He also won several major championships during his career as a professional golfer.
Treviño carried this success into the Senior PGA Tour (now the Champions Tour), and helped make the tour the success that it is today. He celebrated twenty-nine wins, including four senior majors. Amazingly, Treviño never had any formal training or coaching. His career accomplishments are even more remarkable given the fact that he did not start competing as a professional golfer until the age of twenty-seven. Some have called Treviño's swing unorthodox, but others like Herbert Warren Wind of The New Yorker have praised his technique. "He strikes the ball much more purely than most of the paragons of copybook style, and it flies toward the flag with perfect rotation and on just the right parabola," Wind wrote. "The fact is that he is not only one of the finest strikers of the ball in modern times but one of the best shotmakers in history."
Best player on the tour
Lee Buck Treviño was born on December 1, 1939, on the outskirts of Dallas, Texas. He was raised by his mother Juanita, a cleaning woman, and his grandfather, a gravedigger. Their four-room farmhouse was located behind the Glen Lakes Country Club fairways. To help with the family finances, Treviño dropped out of school when he was fourteen years old. He found work on the golf course as a greenskeeper and a caddy.
When he was seventeen years old, Treviño enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. While stationed on the island of Okinawa in the Pacific Ocean south of Japan, he played golf for the U.S. Marine Corps. Following his discharge in 1961, Treviño returned to Texas and found a job as golf pro at a small Dallas club. After practicing for five years, he entered professional tournaments in 1966. In 1968, he achieved his first major victory at the U.S. Open, where he also became the first player in history to shoot all four rounds of the event under par (accepted average score). Treviño was on his way to the top of the PGA Tour.
Best player on the tour
In 1970, Treviño was the leading money winner on the tour. The following year was his best as a professional. He became the only golfer in history to win the U.S., British, and Canadian opens all in one year. Between April and July of 1971, he won five tournaments. For these achievements, Treviño was named PGA Player of the Year, Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
With his extraordinary talents on the golf course, Treviño attracted a large following. Fans also were drawn to his light-hearted manner and witty jokes on the course. In the middle of tournaments, Treviño often stopped to buy hot dogs and soda for children in the surrounding galleries. Throughout his career, Treviño also participated in a number of benefit tournaments and donated a significant portion of his earnings to charities like the March of Dimes and other organizations.
Struck by lightening
After his superb play in 1971, Treviño went on to win the British Open in 1972 and the PGA Championship in 1974, as well as a number of other tournaments. In 1975, however, Treviño and two other golfers were struck by lightning during a tournament near Chicago. Even though he underwent surgery to correct a herniated (ruptured) disc in his back, the injury seriously affected his game (he still suffers from back problems as a result of the accident). He went winless in 1976 and 1978.
In 1980, Treviño made a comeback by winning the Texas Open and the Memphis Classic. He also was awarded the Vardon Trophy for the fewest strokes per round (69.73 for 82 rounds), the fewest since golf great Sam Snead set the record in 1958. And by the end of his career, Treviño had won the Vardon Trophy five times. In 1981, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He also was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, the American Golf Hall of Fame, and the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame.
Treviño retired from the PGA tour in 1985. By the time he retired, Treviño had won twenty-nine PGA tournaments, including the U.S. Open, the British Open, and PGA Championship. He then began working as a golf commentator for NBC television, and started holding "Learn with Lee" golf clinics. His many product endorsements in commercials made him one of the most recognizable Hispanic faces in the United States, Mexico, Japan, and Latin America through Univisión, the Spanish-language television network.
Dominates the senior tour
Despite his retirement, Treviño was unable to stay idle for long. In December 1989—the year that he turned fifty—Treviño joined the Senior PGA Tour. In his rookie season on the tour, he won seven tournaments and earned more than $1 million—a tour record. Treviño continued winning over the next two years.
Unfortunately, an injury in June 1992 quickly put an end to Treviño's winning streak. He had already won five tournaments that year and was on his way to being named the Senior tour's Player of the Year (he eventually won the award). While hitting practice balls, Treviño tore a ligament in his left thumb. That December, he underwent surgery.
By early 1994, Treviño had regained his winning form. In April, he won the PGA Seniors Championship. It was his fourth major championship and his twentieth win in just four years on the Senior tour. By the summer of 1995, Treviño was the golfer with the most career victories on the Senior PGA tour. In 2000, Golf Digest named Treviño the fourteenth greatest golfer of all time. Treviño has continued to be an inspiration to his fans and other golfers. A bad back sidelined Treviño, however, and he finally had to stop playing competitively. "If I proved anything," he told Hispanic, "it's that you don't have to be born into the country club set."
As of 2011, Treviño still was conducting clinics at various golf courses. He also participated in the Texas Golf Legends Pro-Am in Longview, Texas, in September 2011 to help raise money for a program that helps teach life skills to youth through the game of golf. Treviño also continues to play in charitable events, and he has established a number of scholarships and financial aid for Mexican-Americans. Over the years, Treviño also has served as the National Christmas Seal Sports Ambassador (1971), was a member of the President's Conference on Physical Fitness and Sports, and was a member of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society sports committee.
Training and playing golf with his son, Daniel—a high school senior in 2011—also has kept Treviño involved in the game. Treviño has been married three times, and has four children. He married his current wife, Claudia Bove, in 1983.
Treviño also coauthored an autobiography in 1983 called They Call Me Super Mex. He has coauthored a handful of other books as well, including I Can Help Your Game (1971), Groove Your Golf Swing My Way (1976), and The Snake in the Sandtrap (and Other Misadventures on the Golf Tour) (1985).
- Gilbert, Thomas W., Lee Treviño, Chelsea House, 1992.
- Golf Magazine, December 1994, pp. 68+.
- Hispanic, May 1988, pp. 34-39.
- Kramer, Jon, Lee Trevino, Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publishers, 1996.
- May, Julian, Lee Treviño: The Golf Explosion, Crestwood House, 1974.
- New York Times, August 21, 1995, p. B10.
- Sports Illustrated, April 13, 1992, pp. 42-44; June 7, 1993, pp. 52-53; April 25, 1994, pp. 46-47.