December 1

This Day in History

Sports

Dec 1, 1939:

Lee Trevino is born

Golfing legend Lee Trevino is born on this day in 1939, in Dallas, Texas. Growing up in a poor Mexican-American family, Trevino and his two sisters were raised by his mother and his grandfather in a house without electricity or indoor plumbing. Their home was located near a golf club, and little Lee began caddying for local players when he was eight years old. At 17, he joined the U.S. Marines, playing on their golf team during his four years of service. Upon his release, Trevino found work at golf clubs beginning in 1960. He also earned money hustling other players who were deceived by his unorthodox self-taught style and short, flat swing. While working as a clubhouse attendant at an El Paso club in 1966, Trevino beat future Professional Golf Association (PGA) star Raymond Floyd two out of three rounds in a now-famous money match.

In 1967, Trevino himself joined the PGA tour, finishing fifth in that year’s U.S. Open (eight strokes behind the winner, Jack Nicklaus) and earning the tour’s Rookie of the Year award. He won his first U.S. Open the following year at Oak Hill in Rochester, New York. Known on the circuit as a prankster and an entertaining showman, he was dubbed the "Merry Mex" by the press and fans. While waiting to start his 18-hole playoff against Nicklaus in the 1971 U.S. Open, Trevino threw a rubber snake at his opponent. He then took the lead on the third hole and wound up winning by three strokes. Over the next month, Trevino also won the Canadian Open and the British Open, becoming the first player to win the U.S., Canadian and British titles in the same year.

Trevino won a total of 29 titles, including six majors--the U.S. Open (1968 and 1971), British Open (1971 and 1972) and the PGA Championship (1974 and 1984)--and was a five-time recipient of the Vardon Trophy, for the tour’s lowest scoring average. At the 1975 Western Open in Chicago, Trevino was struck by lightning. He continued playing, but later suffered back pain and underwent surgery. Though his pace slowed, he roared back to form in 1980 to win his fifth Vardon. He was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1981.

In 1989, the 49-year-old Trevino joined the PGA Senior Tour, where he immediately began racking up victories. In 1994, he scored a career-high winnings total of $1,202,369, with six titles and a third Player of the Year award. Though he considered retirement in 1999, Trevino continues on the tour, having amassed an impressive 29 titles. Despite, or perhaps because of, his unorthodox baseball-like swing, he is considered one of the best and most creative ball strikers to ever play the game.

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