I’ve been studying the swing of Lee Buck Trevino lately. And there are several aspects that particularly strike me, and lead me to think we moderns have much to learn from from this six-time major and 29-time PGA victory winner. The guy goes after the ball like no one I’ve ever seen. Nearing impact, Trevino is kissing that little dimpled sphere. His head and shoulder must dip a good eight inches from the top of his backswing. Consequently, his right elbow is slightly bent near impact and ready to deliver the coup de grace. And the mailman does indeed deliver. At 5’7″, this fireplug used his legs like pistons to generate considerable clubhead speed in impressively keeping up with the likes of Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Miller, and Tony Lema off the tee. He learned to keep the ball in play via a controlled fade, and as he said “you can talk to a fade but a hook just won’t listen.”
Going back, The Merry Mex, as he was often called (Lee was of Mexican heritage but was born in Dallas), kept his left arm ramrod straight from a one plane address position, creating a wide swing arc with the clubhead and hands in front of him. He then re-routed the club some to the inside, and made the deep dip down towards the ball. That move is key. Nicklaus and Palmer did it. So did Tiger in his younger days. JT does it. So does Bryson. And, as we’ve just seen, Collin Morikawa. On LPGA Tour, Brooke Henderson goes down after that ball with a vengeance. And it shows: At only 22 years old, she’s won nine times including a major, and is one of the longest drivers on the LPGA tour!
And it’s not just a swing tip or technique. It’s a move that says, I’m here to win. I’m not just messing around. I’m not here just to make a pile of money. I’m here to prove something–to myself and every other competitor on this playing field. It’s a move that shows the heart of the lion. It’s a move that shows, viscerally, who’s holding that grip and what’s in that person’s mind. I can spot it in some of the younger phenoms today–Brooke Henderson, Cameron Champ, Matthew Wolff, Lexi Thompson, Danielle Kang, Collin Morikawa, to name a few.
Lee Buck held nothing back. Every swing was as if it was his last. Even after he was hit by lightening early on and suffered spinal damage that lasted through the rest of his career, he never seemed to let up. His back was injured but his mind wasn’t. And I think that’s another important thing to learn from this legend: That whatever happens to your body, there is always a way forward. The human body can make adjustments and compensations in the journey ahead.
In that way, I use Trevino as a model for my own situation. Almost three years ago, I was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The strong chemo that followed saved my life but chiseled off considerable body weight, caused stamina-reducing heart failure, as well as foot-numbing peripheral neuropathy. For a long time, I hadn’t the energy to hit balls at the range. Eventually, I could manage 10 balls total. Then 20. Then a full small bucket. But with much less body mass, my distance suffered, and I could only manage nine holes. A 140 7-iron is now 120. A 210 yard drive is now about 180. I don’t keep a full score at this point. Just pars. But, shit, I’m alive and playing golf again. Still, it’s a tough adjustment. A few years ago I was breaking 80 fairly regularly. I had three holes in one. Years ago, I was second man on a championship high school golf team. To swallow the reality of diminished golf skills has been difficult. But taking some of the grit Trevino showed during his career has been inspiring. And gradually, at 74, I’m coming back.
So take a look at Trevino’s swing on YouTube. I hope you find as much inspiration and good instruction as I did.
Collin Morikawa! Well done, young man. At 23 years of age, here’s a perfect example of grit, grace, and some impressive golf skills. He won the 2020 PGA Championship by two shots on a difficult golf course in cold, windy SF summer weather. Coming down the stretch, with six guys tied for the lead, he proceeded to pitch in for a bird on the 14th and drive the green on the 16th– one of the greatest clutch drives I’ve ever seen. That led to eagle and a two-shot cushion which held up. Amazing poise from this kid who started playing golf at 5 and was an All-American each of his four years at Cal-Berkeley. Paul Casey from the UK, twice Collin’s age, played wonderfully and took second, along with Dustin Johnson.
After one the greatest finishes in PGA Championship history, the U.S. Open, the Playoffs, and the Masters will provide a feast of great golf ahead.
The U.S. Men’s Amateur Championship is played this week at one of my favorite golf complexes: Bandon Dunes on the southern Oregon coast. Golf Channel coverage starts on Wednesday.
Congratulations to 17-year-old Rose Zhang who won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in a playoff over reigning champion Gabriela Ruffels in an exciting match between two highly skilled amateurs. Rose will be entering Stanford in the fall.
Good writing, Stephen. Way back when I started volunteering for golf events I was a walking scorer at at a senior’s event at Silverado. I walked along with Lee Trevino and Fuzzy Zoeller. What I noticed most beside their wonderful ball striking was that Lee never stopped talking and Fuzzy never stopped whistling. Except of course when someone was ready to hit a shot. Lee didn’t care if anybody was listening. It was his way to focus and stay in the zone.
And as for Colin, wow! Expect great thing from this young man! And Dustin Johnson coming in second again has the makings of some kind of Greek tragedy!
Stephen Altschuler says
Thanks, Richard. Nice memory. Lee is a character, for sure. I miss his approach to the game. And DJ, stuck on one major with all that talent and power. He’s got some sort of mental block. Collin, on the other hand, will be a superstar. Guaranteed! I was really happy to see him win.
Rob Wallace says
Yeah, Trevino was the best ball striker of his day. In fact, Ben Hogan used him to test his Hogan clubs because Lee could repeat his swing so consistently at such a high level of precision. Most importantly, like Hogan he taught himself.
When Jack Nicklaus popularized the trend of having a golf teacher at your beckon call, a reporter asked Trevino if he would ever consider having a golf teacher. Lee responded, “Well I might, if I could find one that could beat me.” Tongue in cheek, of course.
Stephen Altschuler says
More good Lee Buck stories. Thanks, Rob.