Why Lee Trevino thinks this Open Championship will be must-see TV

Tiger Woods and Lee Trevino talking shop at St. Andrews.

Tiger Woods and Lee Trevino talking shop at St. Andrews' Old Course.

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Rory McIlroy stepped up to the second tee at the Old Course, judged the wind — slightly down — and punished a tight draw driver down the right side of the fairway. It kicked hard forward as it landed. Then it rolled. And it rolled. And it rolled. The hole is 420 yards, but McIlroy putted his second shot from just short of the green.

St. Andrews is a racetrack this week. The fairways are a delightful sepia tone. Golf balls bound forward, and sideways, sometimes predictably and often not. And that’s the reason Lee Trevino thinks the 150th Open will be appointment viewing.

Trevino, himself a two-time Open Champion, played alongside McIlroy, Tiger Woods and LPGA star Georgia Hall in a four-hole Celebration of Champions on Monday afternoon. He experienced firsthand just how hard the course was playing. That’s hard as in firm. And that’s firm as in easy — like extra yardage off the tee, chip shots into par-4s and golfers potentially overpowering the course. But firm can mean hard, too, because that extra yardage can get you into trouble — and that’s where Trevino expects fireworks.

“Because these guys hit it so far, they can reach five par-4s. They’re going to get after it,” he said. “I’ve already told a couple guys: Don’t try to win this Thursday or Friday. Because you’ll make a big number and you’ll get behind the 8-ball. If you get four, five, seven, eight shots behind on Saturday or Sunday, then go like hell. Try to drive every green and make every birdie you can and catch up.”

The winning score may well be very low this week, but Trevino predicted bundles of birdies will be accompanied by occasional crooked numbers. That combination is tantalizing.

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“This golf course is easy if you do everything perfect,” he said. “But if you’re a little off with an iron or a driver, this course is a booga-bear. With the gorse and the heather and the deep bunkers with the big faces and everything, it can play extremely hard.”

That hard meant firm and difficult.

“The greens are slow right now, but they’ll not be slow by Saturday,” he said, gesturing in the direction of the 18th, where he’d just finished. The greens are still mostly green. For now. “They’ve been watering them to keep them alive. They’re gonna let ’em go now, I know they will. And they’ll be really slick and powdery by Saturday and Sunday.”

Trevino wore a grin all Monday afternoon. He delights in cracking up Woods and McIlroy. He said he was blown away by Hall’s ball-striking. And he was tickled to see Jack Nicklaus, who joined the group on the first tee, posed for photos on the Swilcan Bridge and traded good-natured barbs at several points throughout the round.

At age 82, Trevino remains an Open junkie. While he downplayed his own accomplishments — “I don’t look much at that stuff,” he said — he has an obsessive knowledge of this championship’s history. He can name you Willie Park’s 12-hole scores from the 1800s. He speaks eagerly about King James’ relationship with the game and how that affected St. Andrews. He tells stories about the Old Course’s reversible routing and how really, it ought to be played clockwise rather than counterclockwise. And he delights in sharing it with terrific golfers from younger generations.

As for his evaluation of Woods’ chances?

“I will say this — [his leg injury] hasn’t bothered his playing a bit. He told me this at the [PNC] Father-Son: ‘My problem is not hitting it. My problem is I can’t walk.'”

“It’s going to be tough,” Trevino said, thinking about Woods making that walk. “He’s going to have to wiggle a little bit on some of the holes, because of the ups and downs. Bunkers are going to be tough, but he hasn’t hit one yet! He has no problem hitting it,” he concluded.

Trevino watched eagerly as McIlroy and Woods ripped driver at the reachable 18th. McIlroy’s moonshot landed higher and relatively softer, settling pin-high on the green. Woods’ effort was slightly flatter and tumbled forward over the back, settling just a few yards shy of several menacing out-of-bounds stakes. Trevino pointed them out and predicted we’ll see several unfortunate O.B. balls. He grinned.

“There’s no lead that’s going to be safe here. No lead’s going to be safe. If a guy has a four- or five-shot lead and there’s guys that are way back, they’ll be able to go after it, and they’ll go after it. They’ll go after 2, they’ll go after 6, they’ll drive it in the bunker on 7, then there’s 9, 10, 12, 18 — I can’t wait.”

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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