Q&A: Lee Trevino on historic win at Oak Hill
By Phil Stambaugh, Champions Tour
Lee Trevino’s life was about to change forever when he left for the U.S. Open at Oak Hill Country Club in the summer of 1968. He arrived in Rochester, N.Y., with 20 bucks in his pocket and a garment bag containing three shirts and three pairs of slacks. He spent the week with a local couple and their five children in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom home. Trevino, then just another nameless touring professional, launched his World Golf Hall of Fame career by making the U.S. Open his first of 29 PGA TOUR victories.
Trevino became the first player in U.S. Open history to post four consecutive rounds in the 60s and his 5-under-par 275 total tied the tournament scoring record set a year earlier by Jack Nicklaus. With this year’s PGA Championship being staged at Oak Hill, Champions Tour media official Phil Stambaugh got some perspective from Trevino on the win that started it all and what makes Oak Hill such a special place for him.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: The 1968 U.S. Open was your first victory on the PGA TOUR. What are your immediate memories of winning one of golf’s biggest events at Oak Hill 45 years ago?
LEE TREVINO: Hard to believe it’s been 45 years. I went up there and when I went to Oak Hill, I was playing extremely well. I had just finished second at Houston when Roberto De Vicenzo beat me (after) I bogeyed the last hole. Then I went to Memphis and I finished second to Bob Lunn. Then I took a week off and went to New York. I actually spent some time with some friends in Stamford, Conn., and then drove up to Rochester early. I was the guest of Paul Kircher and his five kids and at that time, I had never stayed with anyone before in anyone's house. It turned out to be a real comfortable thing. I immediately fell in love with Oak Hill. I had never seen too many courses like that before. I had always played these hardpan courses with nothing and here I am up there with rolling hills and all those beautiful trees. I drove the ball extremely well that week. The one thing that I found out later is that if you are going to win major championships, you are going to have to drive the ball straight and that's what I could do, I could drive the ball straight. I loved it. I played four practice rounds and I played all four practice rounds with Doug Sanders. Doug Sanders, believe it or not, picked me to win the tournament and that's what I did.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: So is that really the key to playing Oak Hill, being a straight driver, even in today's game? You think the winner this year will be somebody that hits it straight?
LEE TREVINO: Well, it certainly helps. You cannot hit the ball crooked. Weather is also a key. When a course gets soft, it makes it wider. The greens get bigger and they get slower, easier to chip to, and also the fairways get wider because if you work the ball down there with a draw or fade, the ball doesn't run out of the fairway.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: You were the first player ever to win that prestigious championship shooting four rounds in the 60s Did you know that when you had finished the 1968 U.S. Open or did somebody tell you later that it had never happened before?
LEE TREVINO: No, I never even had a clue. Nobody even mentioned it. Back in those days we had maybe four guys, four press people on the site. I remember doing the press conference after I won and the media center was basically like a funeral tent in the parking lot. I think Bob Green was there from the Associated Press and a few others. I think there was one television camera in the press tent. That was basically it, nothing else.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: Lee, do you remember how the 1968 U.S. Open played out on the final day. I believe it was a battle really between you and Bert Yancey for a while there and then Jack Nicklaus sort of made a charge at the end, but he ran out of holes and couldn’t catch you. Is that accurate?
LEE TREVINO: Yeah, well, Nicklaus, I think he played in front of us the last day but he didn't putt very well. If you look back, he missed all the birdies coming down the stretch. He had makeable birdie putts on 15, 16, 17 and 18 and failed to make any of them. I had a pretty good lead, though. I started out the final round one stroke in back of Yancey but by the time I got to No. 12, I was four strokes in front and was still four strokes in front with four holes to play. I got out there in front and for Nicklaus to win on that back nine, I was going to have to make two or three mistakes and I didn't make any mistakes. I think Jack finished four shots back. Either I had to make quite a few mistakes or he would have had to have gone crazy and shot 30 on the back nine to catch me. Neither of those things happened.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: I think I read a quote from you that if you would not have had the big lead coming down the stretch, you probably would not have won. Is that true?
LEE TREVINO: Probably not, probably not, because I was leaking a little bit of oil coming down the stretch. I got it up and down on 16, up and down on 17, up and down on 18. I got it up and down on 18 from 100 yards. I was leaking a little bit for sure.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: You mentioned earlier about the Kircher family. Can you maybe relay to me a story that’s been told about his daughter, Susan, giving you a four-leaf clover as a good luck charm early in the week and you kept it with you in your back pocket for all four days of the championship?
LEE TREVINO: Well, we went out and looked for one. She was 3 years old and she was a little rambunctious running around the room and stuff, and she was kind of scared of me because of my loud voice. I talk loud. I was trying to make friends with her and stuff, so I said, “You know what, do you think we could go out in that backyard and find a four-leaf clover?” I got her by the hand and she went with me, which was unusual. Early in the week, she wouldn't come near me. But she went out and she and I crawled around in the backyard for about an hour before we found one. Yeah, we found a four-leaf clover and I stuck it in my back pocket for all four days. I’m not superstitious at all, but I pretended that I was. I guess it worked for me.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: One last thing about Oak Hill. Isn’t that where you met Arnold Palmer for the first time?
LEE TREVINO: Yeah, I never met Arnie before that. I saw him at Olympic Club in 1966 drive in the parking lot and that's the first time I had ever seen him. He drove in and everybody was trying to get his autograph, so I never got close enough to meet him. I then played at Baltusrol the next year, but didn’t meet him there either. After I won at Oak Hill, he came over and congratulated me. I think at the time, I was more thrilled about meeting Arnie than hoisting the U.S. Open trophy.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: After you won that U.S. Open, your first win of any significance, did anything noteworthy happen to you in terms or perks or endorsements?
LEE TREVINO: No, I can't remember anything. I certainly got more attention, more media exposure, more interview requests. I know I lost a certain amount of privacy after winning the 1968 U.S. Open and I became more recognizable. That's the only thing that really happened and it hasn't stopped for me to this day.