The 1984 PGA Championship: Lee Trevino
By: Claudia Mazzucco – On this day, August 19, 1984, Lee Trevino captured his second PGA Championship at Shoal Creek Country Club, in Birmingham, Alabama. He beat Lanny Wadkins and Gary Player by four strokes. “I am not supposed to beat these young kids,” he said afterwards, “but I got them today.” Wadkins kept fighting until the end but bogeyed the last two holes for his par 72, his first round in the seventies. Player shot 71.
Trevino played sensational golf in a seven years old golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus. He had only two bogeys, and a double bogey in 72 holes. He finished like a champion, sinking an 18-foot putt for a birdie at the last hole for a 3 under par 69 and a 273 total (69, 68, 67, 69), which was a 15-under par record for the championship. It was also the first time any player had played all four rounds under 70. He shattered Hal Sutton’s ten under at Riviera, in Los Angeles, 1983.
It was his first victory in three years, and his sixth major. He had won his first PGA in 1974 at Tanglewood in Clemmons, North Carolina, using a new putter who had found in a widow’s attic. He won this one at Shoal Creek the same way: he had a brand new putter he’d bought for $50 in a Pro Shop during the Dutch Open in Rosendaelsche, Holland, several weeks before the PGA. Since then he’d been 56 under par for the ten rounds before Sunday’s last round in Shoal Creek.
On Sunday, Trevino holed a 60-foot birdie putt on the first hole, birdied the 3rd, and then made his only bogey at the 189-yard 5th, out of a bunker. Meanwhile, Wadkins made three birdies and took the lead. Rain and lightning forced a one-hour delay when Trevino and Wadkins were tied for the lead at 13 under on the 6th hole with Player. Trevino waited it out in a garage, munching on a brownie. When play resumed, Wadkins took a one-stroke lead through nine holes but he freewheeled a drive into the rough and bogeyed the 11th hole, where Trevino sank a 20-footer for par. Wadkins made three putts on the 12th and now Trevino was ahead by a stroke. He sank a second great putt under pressure from 18 feet at the par-3 16th. Leading by a stroke, Trevino had put his tee shot in a bunker, while Wadkins hit his tee shot to within 12 feet of the cup. He missed his birdie, and followed with a duck-hook tee shot on the 17th.
In the second round, Gary Player (at age 48) made ten birdies for a record of 63 (30-33), the best round in the tournament’s history. He was grateful to equal the PGA record but he had a good opportunity to break 60: he missed a five-foot par putt at 12 and missed birdie putts of 8 and 12 feet at 16th and 18th. The next best score for the day as five shots higher. Barry McDermott wrote in Sport Illustrated:
“His Friday round was a masterpiece, the brush that created it being a new putting stroke that was really an old putting stroke. Player grew up using an abrupt jab, in the manner of South Africa’s Bobby Locke, who’s often cited as the best putter ever. But in recent years Player had gotten away from the short follow-through. Five minutes before teeing off Friday, he went back to it.”
Trevino began Saturday tied with Player and Wadkins at seven under, but got four birdies and an eagle to go 13 under after seven holes. He missed a 4 ½ footer to make birdie on the 8th hole. But finished the front nine with 30 strokes. Trevino came to the 18thleading Wadkins by three shots and Player by four. Then he hit his only bad drive of the round, into a fairway bunker. Instead of pitching out, he went for the green, found a lake and made a double bogey.
That year, Trevino had his best money-winning season in four years, collecting $282,907, and was named “Comeback Golfer of the Year” in a vote by West Coast golf writers and sportscasters that was overseen by the Tournament of Champions Committee at Rancho La Costa Resort. His victory had yet another component that is worth mentioning: it was the last before his Senior Tour rebirth six years later. In his rookie senior season, Trevino won six tournaments and more than $ 650,000.
In 1976, a year after being hit by lightning at the Western Open, surgeons repaired a herniated disc. Five years later, a laser was used to deaden a nerve ending in the same area of his back. The ailments have restricted his playing time. Following a dismal $34,000 season in 1981, Trevino began his slow climb back to the top. The first step was to get married to his second wife, Claudia. After Trevino shot a disappointing 76 in the opening round of the Tournament Players Championship, Claudia listened to Trevino’s dire tales about the difficulty of the Sawgrass course. Unconvinced that Trevino could not do it, she told him she would have to see this 18-hole no-man’s land for herself. “I went out the next day and shot a 66,” Trevino said. “She looked at me and said, ‘I don’t ever want to hear that you can’t play this game anymore. And I don’t ever want to hear that you are too old to play this game anymore. You just shot 66 on the most difficult golf course I have ever seen in my life, and you are playing all these other pitch-and-putts shooting 78s and 79s. You are using it as an excuse.”‘ The message sunk in, Trevino said, and led to a 14-under score good enough for second place. After his second operation, Trevino’s doctor told him he his back would be fine if he quit practicing. “I practice mentally now,” Trevino said. “I think a lot about the golf swing and the mechanics of it.”
Claudia M. Mazzucco is a researcher at Golf Channel and teacher of History of Golf at the PGA of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. She is the author of Legendary Lessons (2016), El Golf de los Tiempos, A Novel (2002) and The Guide of Golf Courses in Argentina (2003). She received the PGA Award from the PGA of Argentina in 2005