By Chris Stevenson, The Rideau View Golf Insider
OAKVILLE, Ont. — Lee Trevino can still play the cut.
The 78-year-old was on hand for the 2018 RBC Hall of Fame Day at Glen Abbey Golf Club, where he was the winner the first time it was played here in 1977, his first of three Canadian championships.
He showed his old form after he was presented with a keepsake trophy to commemorate his Triple Crown win (three national championships in 1971: U.S., Canadian and Open; the only other guy to do it is Tiger Woods). He stepped to the mic at the ceremony to honour the induction of LPGA star Gail Graham and architect A.V. Macan teed off on President Donald Trump.
The man knows his audience.
“Thank God that fence isn’t finished or I wouldn’t be here. The man is building a fence down south and being Mexican, I didn’t know if I would be able to get here or not,” he said, the crowd bursting into applause when they realize where he was going with “the fence.”
“I left a week early to make sure I was here.”
The man who was known as Super Mex and the Merry Mex (nicknames that today would be just on that side of the out of bounds stake, I would imagine) quit school at 14, served as a gunner with the Marine Corps and got his first introduction to golf when he took a construction job building a golf course after he left the service.
Playing his low cut out of the Texas wind, he went eye to eye with Jack Nicklaus, the greatest of all time, and he wasn’t the one who blinked.
He beat Nicklaus in a playoff for the U.S. Open at Merion to kick off his Triple Crown run in 1971.
“Golf is in great spot…”
Unlike some of his contemporaries who have blamed the ball for distance gains and necessitated a constant game of catch up by course designers, Trevino said you have to credit today’s players.
“Golf is in a great spot right now. It’s in a great spot. When we were playing there were usually what we would call six horses, six, seven, eight. If you look at all the major championships that were won from the late ’60s to ’80, they were almost won by the same six or eight guys on the Tour.
“Today you’ve 50, 60, 70 guys that on any given day they can not only win a major, but they are liable to dominate the game.”
“It’s not going any farther for you. You’re still shooting 90. You’re handicap hasn’t change a damn bit and you’ve got all the latest stuff.
Trevino gave his state of the game position and credited the players rather than technology for the gains in distance. There’s no question technology and course maintenance have influenced the distance the ball is traveling, but the biggest factor is the athlete, he said.
“It’s still about speed, folks. If you’re slow, you’re now going to win the 100-yard dash if the other guy is faster. It’s all about speed. The golf ball is a little crazy.
“I averaged 242 (yards off the tee). Nicklaus average about 270 in the old days with the old ball. Now they say it’s gone crazy. The ball is going everywhere. The ball is going longer because people are faster. They’re hitting it harder. The harder you hit it, the farther it’s going to go. Try a tennis ball. Hit it easy and then hit it hard and see what it does.
Trevino credited about 8-10 yards to improvements to the ball, but he also said shafts being lighter and heads being bigger have added yards. He also this interesting observation:
“The mower has probably done more for this game than anything. Mowing the fairways every day. I played golf when they mowed the fairways once a week. The greens on the Stimpmeter were probably -2. The fairways were faster than the greens because they weren’t being watered. They were watering the greens so they were growing. Today the greens are faster, the fairways are faster.
“Then you look at the individual. The individual is taller, he’s in better condition, he swings the club faster. You come out and watch Dustin Johnson swing at it. Don’t stand behind him because it will suck you in. All those guys out there now swing the club over 112 mph. That’s fast.
“Don’t believe all that baloney that it’s only the ball. It’s about the athlete, it’s about the equipment, it’s about the mower and yeah, the ball has a little bit. You start adding eight yards here for the body and eight yards for the ball and eight yards for the shaft and eight yards for the clubhead now the guy who was hitting 270 is hitting 308.
“Unfortunately it hasn’t helped you with that 18-handicap.”
Trevino said the most valuable club in the bag is the wedge.
“I know that everybody says it’s the putter because you use it the most times. You can putt with all your clubs. You can’t get out of the bunker with all of them. You can’t chip with all of them. All the young people here, learn how to use the wedge. It is the most important club in the bag.”
Trevino then moved over to “The Rink,” the hockey-themed par-3 seventh hole where he eyed the hockey net on the tee. “I wonder how many Mexicans are playing hockey,” he said.
After a couple of attempts at a slap shot, he was handed a wedge to demonstrate the right and wrong ways of moving it through the ball. Don’t use your arms he said, launching a scalder that ripped through the net and nearly knee capped journalist Ian Hutchinson.
He then led it his left hip and feathered a shot into the net that would make Pavel Datsyuk proud.
The World According To Trevino
The future of Glen Abbey is up in the air with owner ClubLink proposing more than 3,000 homes for the site along with nine, 10-12 storey apartment buildings. It is being opposed by citizen groups and the City of Oakville, which has rejected the development plan and wants to designate it a heritage site.
“I’m never in favour of developing any golf course, regardless of who it is or where it’s found,” Trevino said. “You have to understand the gentleman who owns this, you’ve got to have a little bit of thought about what he’s thinking. I don’t know of any golf course that I have ever seen with the exception of Shinnecock (Hills), maybe, Pebble Beach maybe that are on a piece of property worth $2 million an acre. You understand what I’m saying? Those things just don’t happen.”
“It’s not a good deal either way. I’d love to see the course stay, but you have to understand his part of it, too.”
One other Trevino opinion: get him started on the long putter.
“I’m totally against the long putter. Always have been,” he said. “I had the solution about the long putter. The way the rule is written is kind of vague anyway. It says “intent.” If they catch you putting your hand up against your chest and they call it on you, then you say, ‘my intention was not to do it.’”
“Now where the hell do you go from there. I talked to the USGA. I talked the PGA. I talked to everybody until I was blue in the face. I said you took the driver to where it’s only 48 inches long. They made a rule … why can’t they make the putter the shortest club in the bag then you want to anchor it, stick it in your pocket, whatever you want to do with it, you do it. You understand? If you can anchor with a 35-inch putter, anchor with it.”
“They could make it so easy. Why do they make it so difficult?”
If this was the start of the last RBC Canadian Open week at Glen Abbey, the guy who won the first one got it off to a good start.
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