What helped Lee Trevino win money games? Handicap ignorance

Lee Trevino looks on during the Celebration of Champions prior to The 150th Open at St. Andrews on July 11, 2022, in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Lee Trevino looks on during the Celebration of Champions prior to The 150th Open at St. Andrews on July 11, 2022, in St. Andrews, Scotland.

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Lee Trevino is well known for his six major titles, but also for the high-stakes gambling matches he played in before making it on Tour. As one of the game’s ultimate personalities and storytellers, his tales of Texas money games are the stuff of legend. The 84-year-old Hall-of-Famer joined GOLF’s Subpar Podcast earlier this month to riff on a variety of topics, including some of those high-stakes games.

Luckily for Trevino, he said he played best when he had no money in his pocket. He was a “fast gun,” he said, and he was often hired to play (sometimes for about $100) in matches that were financially backed by other parties.

Jack Nicklaus of the United States and Lee Trevino of the United States talk during the Celebration of Champions prior to The 150th Open at St Andrews Old Course on July 11, 2022 in St Andrews, Scotland.
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“I loved it when I got [backed],” he said. “That’s when I was dangerous because it wasn’t my money. So I had no pressure and I could play a little bit.”

Trevino also said his handicap ignorance helped him win some matches.

At Tenison Park in Dallas, for example, where Trevino often played, he said he was technically a plus-5 or a plus-6 handicap and never shot over 65. But…

“When we got gambling games, I knew the guy wasn’t going to tell me what his true handicap was,” Trevino said. “If he was a 4 or 3, he would say he was a 7, and he thought he was taking advantage of me. But the thing about it is he would ask me what my handicap was, and I didn’t know about plus and minus as far as handicap was concerned. And I’d say I don’t have one. ‘Oh, so you are scratch?’ I’d say, ‘I guess, I don’t have a handicap.’ He’d say ‘Oh, OK, well I’ll take four [strokes] on the front and three on the back.’ I said, ‘You got it.’ And I’d put 65 on him, 64, so cheating me out of three strokes didn’t help him any.” [Laughs]

You can watch the entire Subpar interview below, which has lots more gambling talk from Trevino, including the story of a famous match against Raymond Floyd.

Josh Berhow

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s managing editor, Berhow handles the day-to-day and long-term planning of one of the sport’s most-read news and service websites. He spends most of his days writing, editing, planning and wondering if he’ll ever break 80. Before joining GOLF.com in 2015, he worked at newspapers in Minnesota and Iowa. A graduate of Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn., he resides in the Twin Cities with his wife and two kids. You can reach him at joshua_berhow@golf.com.

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