Lee Trevino actually LOST money when he won the 1971 British Open at Birkdale

July 13, 2017

Lee Trevino has fond memories of Royal Birkdale, the wind-whipped links in northwest England that next week will play host the 146th Open Championship. He edged Taiwan’s Lu Liang-Huan, aka Mr. Lu, to win the ’71 Open at Birkdale by a stroke and in two other Opens there finished 5th (’83) and 15th (’91).

Rich memories all, even if Trevino came home from those weeks feeling less than flush. 

”Every time I went over there for the Open I lost money, every damn time,” Trevino said in a phone interview this week. Airfare, accommodation, caddie fees, carousing. It all adds up.   

Trevino’s biggest financial loss at a Birkdale Open, he said, coincided with his most successful week there, in ’71. 

The fun-loving Texan was on the way to his practice round early in the week from the Prince of Wales Hotel when he passed a pair of nuns, who told him they were praying for him to win. Never lacking for bravado, Trevino promised the nuns 5,000 pounds from his prize check if he won.

The routine continued each day, and when Trevino birdied five of the first six holes on Sunday and went on to prevail, the sisters were there to collect.

“I made 13,000 pounds,” Trevino said. “But after traveling over there with [then wife] Claudia, paying the caddie, donating 5,000 to the nuns, I was in the hole.

“I won the tournament and lost money.”

Trevino’s social life at the ‘71 Open couldn’t have helped his bottom line, either. Among his fellow revelers that week was another Texan, actor Jimmy Dean, who was in the area filming a movie. 

“He was sleeping on a park bench in front of the hotel and we invited him in and, man, did we do some partying,” Trevino recalled. “I didn’t play until 3 p.m. every day so we stayed up all night every night,”

The hangout of choice was the Kingsway, a popular nightclub and casino on the promenade in Southport, where Trevino knew the owner. 

“I wanted to cash a check, but he said, ‘You can’t win here, keep the check in your pocket. Go around with me and say hello to everybody.’ So I did, and I was drinking red wine and I wasn’t even a wine drinker. At about 3:30-4 a.m., we would stagger home across the street to the hotel.”

The Prince of Wales is still in operation and will likely host plenty of golfers next week. The Kingsway closed in 2007 and three years later a fire destroyed the building.

Trevino won’t be making the trip this year, but he’ll be watching. He likes white-hot Spaniard Jon Rahm to win.

“You can tell just by watching him he loves links golf, has played it a bunch, and has got the power to be successful,” Trevino said. “Just look what he did on the links at the Irish Open last week. That’s who I would be putting my money on next week.”

Trevino, who played in 26 Opens and won a second claret jug in ‘72, says Birkdale is one of the easiest courses for American players to adapt to. 

“It always depends on the weather conditions as all links do, but it’s easier than Muirfield, easier than Turnberry, about the same as St. Andrews. Those are the two easiest courses on the rota.

“At Birkdale, the bunkers are on the side of the green, not in the middle where you can’t bump and run. The rough is not as thick as some places and the greens are more level than many of the links.”

Trevino says he also likes the chances of his fellow Dallas resident Jordan Spieth, because of his exceptional bump-and-run game. Spieth’s on-point iron play also will make him dangerous. 

“You’ve got to hit it straight to win over there and that was always my advantage at the British Open,” Trevino said. “I could put the ball straight on the sidewalk if I needed to. Jack [Nicklaus] could hit it straight with power, but not as straight as me.”