Lee Trevino at the Masters: 'Pray they don't invite me back'

Something funny happened in the first round of the 1989 Masters: Lee Trevino took the lead. Well, it was funny to Trevino, and unexpected to everyone else. The UPI account from April 7, 1989 reads like this:

With a huge grin on his face, Trevino walked into a room overflowing with journalists, laughed loudly and said:

"I'll bet I'm the last person you expected to see here today. I didn't expect it either."

Trevino's — and the assembled media's — surprise was based on two things:

1. Trevino was 49 years old and not playing so great;
2. Trevino had a longstanding and well-known discomfort with The Masters and Augusta National.

"Discomfort" is too mild a word, actually. Trevino hated Augusta. He hated it because he felt his game was so ill-suited to the course that he had no chance to win; and he hated it because, well, here's UPI from April 7, 1989, again:

"Through the years (Trevino) has complained about everything (at The Masters) from treatment received by his caddy to the number of tickets he has been given. And last year, after missing the cut, he said he would 'get down on my knees and pray they don't invite me back.' "

The part about caddie treatment is more telling than the crack about tickets in the above excerpt. It boiled down to this: Trevino convinced himself (wrongly, Jack Nicklaus always thought) that he couldn't win at Augusta; and the Tex-Mex Trevino, who overcame a childhood of extreme poverty, simply never felt comfortable nor welcomed at the upper-crust Augusta National Golf Club.

That's understandable. Augusta was a blatantly racist place back in the old days, with blatantly racist club policies. Trevino's own insecurities might have exacerbated the issues he felt when playing The Masters, but his feelings were not without basis.

Trevino, when playing The Masters, would go so far as to change his shoes in the parking lot so he wouldn't have to enter the lockerroom and clubhouse. There were some years, including two of his prime years of 1970-71, when Trevino skipped The Masters, so uncomfortable was he at the prospect of spending four days there. He only returned after Nicklaus talked him into it.

So what happened after Trevino's opening 67 gave him the first-round lead at the 1989 Masters? He followed it with a 74 but still shared the second-round lead. Then, alas, Trevino blew up with a third-round 81. But he came back to shoot 69 in the final round.

And because he finished inside the Top 24, he was invited back to yet another Masters the following year. At the 1990 Masters Trevino tied for 24th, so got invited back again. Finally, the 1991 Masters — where he finished 49th — was his last. You get the idea that Trevino felt plenty of relief about that.

And at the end of his uneasy relationship with The Masters and Augusta, Trevino's first-round 67 at the 1989 Masters was the best round he ever scored there. And the best finish for Trevino — easily one of the 20 best golfers of all-time — at The Masters was a tie for 10th place.

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