Lee Trevino cherished the round. His 7-under 65 best-ball score with partner Mike Hill could’ve been better, but playing alongside the team of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in the first round of the Demaret Division of the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, well, that’s something he’ll always treasure.
“We don’t know if we will ever get a chance to play with Jack again like this,” Trevino said. “We’ll probably see each other someplace, but as far as a competitive round it probably will never happen again.”
Nicklaus competed in the two-man team event for the first time since 2001. His comments afterwards didn’t dispel the notion that this might be a one-shot deal for him to participate in the 36-hole competition for players 70 and older. Asked if the 3-under 69 team score for Nicklaus-Player had inspired him to play in the Legends in future years, Nicklaus said, “Quite the contrary. It did not inspire me to play anymore.”
Nicklaus did, however, inspire thousands of fans to the Westin Savannah Harbor Resort & Spa to see three of the greatest names in golf – Jack, Gary and Lee – give it their best. There was Nicklaus with his golden bear-logoed hat, Player sporting the black knight, and Trevino with his sombrero. Fittingly, Hill was hatless.
“On the first tee I told Jack and Gary that I knew I was playing with three superstars and I’d try to stay out of there way,” Hill said.
It was too cold when the round began for Trevino to reach into his bag and pull out a snake like he did before the 18-hole U.S. Open playoff versus Jack Nicklaus in 1971. But there were plenty of hijinks, beginning at the first tee.
When Nicklaus whistled his opening drive into the left rough, Trevino began with the needle.
“You’re lucky you made it with that swing,” Trevino cackled.
Nicklaus shook his head and lamented, “I used to have another half to it.”
Later Nicklaus joked of another of his tee shots, “How about that, 226 yards down the middle.”
To which Andy Bean, who came out to watch the stars, deadpanned, “Jack, I don’t think it even rolled that far.”
The laughs continued at the third hole when Nicklaus drove over to Trevino and asked about golf cart etiquette.
“Just don’t drive on the green,” Trevino said.
Then he turned to Player and added, “Damn rookie. He doesn’t know.”
In some ways, nothing had changed. Player was dressed in all black. Trevino never stopped yapping. Nicklaus was deliberate. Hill wore his gold money clip attached to his left hip pocket. And Barbara Nicklaus and Vivienne Player clapped from the gallery. It was like old times.
And yet, there was no denying that age has taken its toll on their games. Nicklaus’ belly is a little thicker, Trevino wore glasses and Player even hopped into a golf cart for a moment. Most of all, it was hard to fathom that Hill consistently outdrove Nicklaus by 25 yards. Even Player gave his partner a little ribbing.
“Did you ever think you’d see the day where I was longer than Jack Nicklaus?” Player said, wide-eyed.
Alfred “Rabbit” Dyer, the former caddie for Player who was called back into service this week, may have put it best when he said, “Jack just can’t boogie anymore.”
The gallery tracking them didn’t seem to mind one bit. Some fans looked as though they were playing hooky from work, if not school, but the majority of the gallery was as old as the golfers they followed. They snapped photos on cellphones as if it were a reunion of The Beatles.
Nicklaus and Player made three bogeys in a row, on Nos. 5-7, leading Nicklaus to later comment that they had a nice 15-hole round.
“When we made the turn, Gary said to me, ‘We just need to play more.’ I said, ‘I haven’t played competitively in eight years, and I haven’t been this ticked in eight years,’ ” Nicklaus said.
A cynic might say, well, they played a 6,177-yard course, and it’s no fun to see Player and Trevino fail to clear the front bunker at the par-5 fourth hole from 208 yards with a 3-wood. But then spectators wouldn’t have witnessed Player show why he’s widely considered the best sand player of all time.
In the end, there were enough moments of magic to applaud. Trevino and Hill made four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine, capped by Hill chipping in from just off the green at the 14th hole. Player knocked his tee shot to 10 feet at the par-3 15th, and Nicklaus parked a 7-iron 5 feet from the hole at the par-3 17th for another birdie. Still, Nicklaus said frustration ruled the day.
“I had no desire to go out there just to enjoy the day,” Nicklaus said. “It’s a tournament. That’s why I don’t play anymore, because I can’t do what I want to do.”
It is a realization that top athletes in other sports have to accept decades earlier. Pro golfers seem to run on batteries. Trevino and Hill appear fully charged for Tuesday’s final round, trailing leaders Frank Beard and Larry Ziegler, who shot 64, by one stroke. The competitive juices again will be flowing.
“We can’t compete anymore on the tour, so this is our (entire) year right here,” Trevino said.
They still hunger to win, but The Legends is about camaraderie as much as competition. It’s about telling stories about the old days, knowing the punch lines and laughing at them all over again. It’s about 86-year-old Bob Toski and 91-year-old Jack Fleck still trying to get that little ball in that little hole.
“You saw some of the greatest players that ever teed it up get out there and compete against each other, and harass each other and love each other,” said Brendan Cunningham, the tournament’s longtime starter. “I’ll tell you what: It doesn’t happen at any other tournament.”
Truth is, Nicklaus, Player, Trevino, and even Arnold Palmer will reunite in early May at the Insperity Championship in Houston for a scramble-format team exhibition. Reflecting on Trevino’s assertion that they might have played their final competitive round together, Nicklaus’ last word on the matter lacked any sentimentality.
“If Lee had just played worse,” Nicklaus said, “he could’ve played with us tomorrow.”