The pre-British Open was getting as dry as a links course: Jack Nicklaus explaining dimple design; Seve Ballesteros fretting about the greenside rough at Royal Birkdale; Tom Watson using a new $60 hickory-shafted club off the first tee today--and nearly losing it.
Then that invigorating breeze also known as Lee Trevino blew in, fresh from Canada, saying: "IS THERE ROUGH around here? On 15, we put down my bag to hunt for a ball. Found the ball; lost the bag."
Thankfully, Trevino is back, as long as his back allows. Trevino at stretches has played as well as anyone ever in golf, all the while reminding us that a man need not be born with a brassie in his mouth to accomplish that.
Of necessity lately, Trevino, 43, has adopted the hacker's routine. You're familiar with how it goes: arrive at the course 10 minutes before tee-off, change shoes sitting on the rear bumper, nail three practice putts and swing the driver for the first time for real.
Well, Trevino changes in more fashionable surroundings and works dilligently with his putter. But he hits the absolute minimum of range balls before a round. And almost never practices between tournaments.
That's what the doctor ordered.
About a month ago, after he withdrew from the U.S. Open, Trevino was told that to play golf well, at his accustomed level, he could no longer play golf often.
Having recalled hitting maybe 2,000 practice shots the previous four days, he listened as the doctor asked: "You do know how to play golf, don't you?"
"Sure do," said the man who at that moment had won two British Opens, two U.S. Opens, two Canadian Opens, the Vardon Trophy five times and been on six Ryder Cup teams.
"Then play golf," the doctor said. "Don't work at it. Your body only has so many shots left in it."
"I've got a disc missing (after two operations)," Trevino said, "and he told me the more I play the more I irritate everything. Now, if I miss a shot I blame the doc. Been doing that since before last week. And it's worked."
Last week, Trevino won the Canadian PGA.
"I had 24 birdies and finished 17 under," he bragged. "And averaged 28.2 putts, on greens that weren't good. So I've got a tremendous amount of confidence."
This was after the one practice round he knew he needed on the course he won the first of his back-to-back British Opens, in 1971. It hasn't changed.
"Same as 12 years ago," he said. "Only difference is that all the girls I noticed then now have gray hair."
At Troon last year, it was almost painful to watch Trevino in pain. Frustrated to the extreme, he told friends in Britain they might not see him in another (British) Open. He's careful just to say Open, not British Open. Everyone on this side of the Atlantic water hazard regards this as the only Open, relegating the one in the Colonies to the stature of the Nigerian, Brazilian and all those other opens only Gary Player takes seriously.
"Didn't have a chance in the last Open," he said. "Could barely tee it up. If it hadn't been the Open, I wouldn't have tried. But you could bump-and-run it at Troon. Know how guys were carrying that bunker at No. 1? I wasn't getting there with a driver.
"Had to withdraw after nine holes the next week. That's when I had the second operation. A complicated thing that amounted to deadening a nerve."
Now that he already has hit 70-some more shots than he should have at this point in the week, Trevino plans to spend the day before the tournament at the beach.
If the course has not changed too much in 12 years, it is sad that some of the Southport scene has.
"I asked somebody where the casino was," he said, "and found it was closed. Hell, I won't make the cut."
Even better than staying in casinos here is staying out of Birkdale's pasture-high rough. Most fairways are extremely narrow. Like the U.S. Open last month at Oakmont, only the singles hitters use the driver regularly.
"I like rough," Trevino volunteered. Perhaps this is because everyone else hates it. But he added, logically, "I don't think a guy who hits it three feet off-line should be penalized as much as a guy who hits it 50 feet off-line."
Although not nearly so thick as Oakmont's, the rough here is much higher. Uniformly so. Except for the scrubby bushes and other evil far from where even the most pedestrian player is likely to send his shots, there are few degrees of bad at Birkdale.
"What there ought to be," Trevino said, "is something like four-inch-high rough six feet from the fairway, eight-inch rough 12 feet away and so on. Anyone who hits it 60 feet or so off-line should really be penalized."
Of course, Trevino is one of golf's straight shooters. He even talks a much wilder game off the course than he plays. A glance at Trevino brings a Sammy Baugh line to mind. Will this be your last season, the Redskin immortal once was asked before training camp? "Last year might have been," Baugh said.
With Trevino, golf now is week to week. Shot to shot, perhaps.
"I can win this Open," he said. "I'm playing well enough to win. But I was playing well before the U.S. Open."
Nicklaus said golf-ball innovations have added 12 yards to each club.
Trevino says the new balls also listen better. "They don't seem to exaggerate hooks and slices," he said. "And when I yell, 'Get down,' it does."
Trevino will obey what any doctor he trusts mandates.
"Never thought about quitting," he insisted. "As long as there's a doctor and a way to operate, I'll go on. If I can't play, I don't want to walk."