The Lee Trevino Experience up close? Here’s what that feels like

Lee Trevino on the first tee before he teed off during the Friday pro-am as a preview for the PNC Championship

A pro-am round with Lee Trevino has a little bit of everything.

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ORLANDO — With a warm wind whipping through the PNC Championship this week, listening in on players’ conversations is a challenge. But as fans at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club lean in over the ropes, hoping to hear a morsel of something — anything — from the golf legends in the field, one voice cuts through the gusts: Lee Trevino’s. 

If most people hover at an operating volume of 6 out of 10, Trevino cruises at a 9. You can hear him from the green when he’s teeing off on a par 3. You can hear him from the next fairway over, barking at Charlie Woods. This is part of the deal with the Merry Mex or Supermex, whichever of his nicknames you prefer. When Trevino is on a golf course, Trevino is on, period. He’s flamboyant, energetic, endlessly entertaining and…somehow also spry. The definition of 84 years young

Golf’s greatest showman arrived on the 10th tee during Friday’s pro-am by docking his cart inches from the tee box markers, hopping out and telling a hundred or so spectators, Don’t worry, it’s okay — Arnold Palmer used to park between the markers. Trevino’s parking job was far more respectable. 

When Trevino striped a drive, he posed in silence, watching it, holding for effect, then announcing, “People take vacations that are shorter than that!”

Walk with Trevino and you’ll learn the man has a line for…everything.

“Can we get a picture?” is met with “I don’t have any!” He has played in thousands of pro-ams like this one. But like any great entertainer, you feel like what he’s saying to you is the first time he’s ever said it. Walking off the 10th green, Trevino had his team in stitches with, “I can’t wait to get up in the morning to hear what I have to say.” That’s one of his go-tos.

“He’s a walking joke machine,” said James Saulez, one of the amateurs playing along. “You just crank him and he goes.”

Saulez wasn’t wrong. Trevino is like a wind-up toy, spinning around from cart to green to tee. There isn’t enough space on this website to include every quip, but just know if his lines are good enough to get Tiger, Rory and Jack howling, they’ll be good enough for you. Thankfully for the pro-am participants, who pay good money for these tee times, comedy is only half of the Trevino Show. The other half is a playing lesson from a golfing wizard. 

On Friday, Trevino played from tee boxes ahead of the amateurs in his group, which, for modern pros would be an obvious sign to their amateur partners to mind their own business. But there Trevino was, backing off his partners for a quick tip on nearly every hole.

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“Are you killing the fly or catching the fly?” he said to a group standing by the 11th tee. “Golf is about catching the fly.”

He had our attention. 

He meant if your golf ball was a fly on a table, you wouldn’t want to kill it, as many amateurs are inclined to do. Rather, you’d try to sweep your hand (or golf club) and catch the fly. Trevino put his first pupil through a thorough swing exercise, holding up the entire group, slowing down the pace of play. The payoff? A smashed tee ball that split the fairway. Trevino bat-flipped his driver to the side, saying, “Gimme five, goddammit. Better yet gimme a hug.” How could you not run into those outstretched arms? 

Trevino is the oldest player in the field this week by 18 years, and he’s not shy about his age. The only other competitor playing from his tees is Annika Sorenstam’s 12-year-old son, Will McGee. From 5,500 yards, Trevino figures he and his son Daniel can contend if he putts well. That much was clear Friday afternoon. The par-3 17th hole measured just 109 yards for the elder Trevino. Nothing more than a gap wedge, pitching wedge at most, his caddie thought. Trevino thought otherwise, electing for a back-of-his-stance, abbreviated 9-iron— the kind of shot only a golfer’s golfer would imagine. The ball flew low and drew slightly into the crosswind, bounding short of the green but then rolling on to it, stopping about 30 feet from the pin. The best of the group by far.

“Yeah, that’s a trick shot,” Trevino said after the had applause died down. Once again, he was talking to his caddie but loudly enough for anyone within 50 feet to hear.

“I told my son Daniel when I was working with him one time, chipping. I said, ‘Listen, I want you to go by the 7-Eleven and get a box of cereal. Get a box of cereal called Trix.’ I said, ‘I want you to empty the box and count ’em. Whatever number you come up with, that’s how many tricks I got. When it comes to hitting that ball, that’s how many tricks I got.'”

For newcomers to the Trevino Experience, it would take a while to tire of this show. Trevino isn’t in front of cameras or journalists often, but every time he is it feels there’s a story to tell. Of late, he’s been on a bit of podcast tour, sharing hours of tales with No Laying Up and GOLF’s Subpar. Even after indexing all that banter, though, somehow the in-person Trevino never feels tired. Spectators reached over the ropes to tell the amateurs how lucky they were, with one suggesting, “You should have to pay double to play with him.”

After Trevino’s round, I chased him down to ask what he gets out of it, knowing that the pro-am exercise is often a one-way street of giving much more than receiving.

“I enjoy being around people, and when I’m around people I want to entertain them,” he said.

“You’re really good at it,” I said. 

“Yeah, that’s why I get the big bucks when I do the dinners,” he said with a chuckle. 

With that, he was off to lunch. 

Sean Zak Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine, currently working on a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews. You can read about those travels here and catch his latest thoughts on the Drop Zone Podcast:

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