When Kevin Quinn heard that Lee Trevino would be playing in the 2001 Travelers Championship Pro-Am, he couldn’t wait to introduce his two sons to one of golf’s all-time greats.
In between the third and fourth holes, Quinn finally got within earshot of Trevino and hollered, “Oak Hill, 1968.”
Trevino busily signed autographs but answered, “I was there.”
“So was I,” Quinn responded.
Trevino continued signing, head down, but he was intrigued enough to ask, “Who are you?”
Quinn stated his name and went silent. Without skipping a beat, Trevino fired back, “Never heard of you.”
Then he looked up with a big grin on his face and asked, “Are you still at Apricots? Best swordfish I ever had in my life.”
The two men, who share a lot more history than a good meal at the Farmington, Conn., restaurant where Quinn serves as general manager, soon embraced. Forty-five years ago, Quinn shouldered Trevino’s bag as he won the 1968 U.S. Open at Oak Hill Country Club.
Only 18 and having completed his freshman year at Cornell University, Quinn was randomly picked to caddie for Trevino. Until 1976, players weren’t allowed to use their own caddie at the U.S. Open. Instead, caddies had been drawn by lot from a pool recruited by the host club. In March 1968, applicants to caddie for the Open participated in a tryout. Quinn never doubted he’d be chosen. He had caddied at Oak Hill for four summers and was the club’s top-rated caddie. He met Trevino, a winless second-year pro, on the Monday of tournament week. They bonded quickly.
“It didn’t take nine holes before he started using the term ‘we,’ ” Quinn said.
Trevino broke par on each of the first three days and trailed 54-hole leader Bert Yancey by one. By then, Quinn was running on adrenaline. To pay his college tuition, Quinn, an East Rochester native, worked a graveyard shift at Kodak. “I was operating on two hours of sleep, but hey, I was 18 and caddieing for a contender in the U.S. Open,” Quinn said.
There would be no rest for the weary before Sunday’s tense conclusion. Not after Trevino slipped Quinn $100.
“He said, ‘You’ve been working too hard. Go have a good time with your friends. And spend all of it,’ ” Quinn recalled. “That’s exactly what I did.”
Heading into the final day, many thought it had the look of a coronation ceremony for Yancey. But Trevino didn’t crack under the pressure. He told Quinn it wasn’t Yancey that concerned him, but “that big bear, one hole ahead of us” a reference to Jack Nicklaus, who shot a final-round 67 and finished second. Yancey’s putting stroke abandoned him and he skied to a 76. When Trevino rolled in birdies at Nos. 11 and 12, he turned to Quinn and said, “Hold me down. I’m not sure I can keep my feet on the ground.”
On the 15th tee, a par 3 measuring only 145 yards on this day to the front flag, Trevino asked Quinn for club advice. The caddie said a smooth 5-iron, which Trevino estimated was way too much club, especially since the hole was playing downwind.
“That’s when I realized he was choking worse than I was,” Trevino joked after the round.
Of this exchange, Quinn would like to set the record straight.
“What I was telling him at that moment was the club he hit the day before from the back tee and in a different wind, but nobody would believe me so I choked,” Quinn said all these years later.
Trevino calmly grabbed an 8-iron out of his white leather bag, aimed left and slid his tee shot in toward the hole. The ball landed a foot in front of the pin, ricocheted off the stick and skittered 15 feet past. As he walked to the green, Trevino glanced at the scoreboard and learned he had a five-shot lead.
The only suspense remaining over the closing holes amounted to whether Trevino could set or tie a couple of U.S. Open scoring records. It appeared unlikely when Trevino’s crooked drive at 18 settled in the left rough. He contemplated punching out to the fairway. Quinn favored a more daring shot.
“Why not go for it?” Quinn suggested.
Trevino nodded in agreement. “You’re right,” he said. “I don’t want to be remembered as the U.S. Open champ who laid up.”
Trevino smother-hooked a 6-iron, advancing the ball 70 yards further left in the tall grass, but wedged his third from 100 yards to 3 feet.
“That was about my first time I realized if I made the putt, I would tie the record of 275 set by Nicklaus the previous year,” Trevino said, “and I would be the first guy to break 70 in all four rounds.”
That’s not all Trevino suddenly remembered. On Thursday, Quinn told him he’d made a standing bet with his friends that Trevino would break 70 every day.
“He puts his arm around me,” Quinn recalled, “and he says, ‘So if I make this, you clean out everybody, right?’ That’s Lee.”
Afterward, Quinn was ushered into the press tent and sat beside Trevino, who paid his freckle-faced caddie the ultimate compliment.
“I couldn’t have won it without him,” Trevino said at the time. “The way he talked to me all the way around, you’d think he was the pro and I was the caddie!”