Lee Trevino: 1971 and the invention of golf’s Triple Crown

Over the course of 30 days in the summer of 1971, Lee Trevino accomplished something never done before and only once since, winning three National Championships.

Lee Trevino practically invented golf’s Triple Crown. Although it’s an established accomplishment elsewhere in the sporting world, in 1970 the Triple Crown was unknown in the golf world. Then Lee Trevino came along.

Horse racing has the most well-known Triple Crown. Any three-year-old thoroughbred that wins the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and the Belmont in the same year is honored as a Triple Crown winner. This is a fairly prestigious accomplishment, with only twelve horses achieving the title in nearly one hundred years.

Major League Baseball has its own version of the Triple Crown which consists of a player leading the league in home runs, RBIs, and batting average in the same season. This feat is even more difficult to accomplish than horse racing’s version, with 17 winners in nearly 150 years.

Golf’s Triple Crown is perhaps the toughest one of them all. It’s only been done twice, ever.

Tiger Woods’ dominant 2000 season actually featured golf’s second Triple Crown. Tiger won the U.S. Open, Canadian Open, and the Open Championship that year.

The first time this was actually accomplished was in 1971 by Lee Trevino, over the course of perhaps the most remarkable month any player – including Tiger – has ever experienced.

The Open Championship returns to Royal Birkdale this year. It’s also the site where Trevino won his first Open and completed his run to the Triple Crown.

Lee Trevino won six tournaments in 1971, including two majors. His season was so dominant he actually was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year, as well as PGA TOUR Player of the Year.

Trevino won the U.S. Open at Merion in an 18 hole playoff over Jack Nicklaus by three shots in the famous rubber snake match. Next was the Canadian Open at Richeville Valley in Quebec. Trevino prevailed yet again, this time in a playoff over Art Wall, Jr. for the first  of his Canadian Open titles.

Trevino completed the final leg of his Triple Crown with a one-stroke win over Lu Liang-Huan at the 1971 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Remarkably, that was actually the easiest win of the three national championships, without having to go to yet another playoff.

Winning golf’s Triple Crown is certainly nowhere near as impressive as winning golf’s Grand Slam. Nevertheless, to win three national titles in the same season is amazing.

Trevino didn’t have a G5 and entourage to make his logistics easier. Nor did he have a week off between England and Canada.

The schedule of the PGA TOUR was slightly different in 1971 from its current iteration. The U.S. Open was still played in the middle of June, but it was then followed by the Canadian Open and then the Open Championship in the second week of July.

In all likelihood, Trevino traveled from Montreal to London on Monday after winning the Canadian Open. That means, at best, he arrived at Royal Birkdale late Monday night, giving him one day to prepare for The Open and acclimate to the time difference. The Open’s first round was played on Wednesday that year, not the traditional Thursday start.

Trevino actually led or co-led the 1971 Open wire-to-wire. Royal Birkdale played to a par-73 in those years, and total of 14-under was just enough to win golf’s first Triple Crown.

Lee Trevino had a great career. He won six major championships and 29 other titles, and he was Nicklaus’s closest rival in the early 1970s. Trevino remains an icon within the Mexican-American community to this day. He came from very humble beginnings, served his country as a United States Marine, and then emerged as one of golf’s greats.

 

 

Throughout all Trevino has done, the 20-day span in 1971 where he won three national championships and golf’s first Triple Crown is perhaps his crowning achievement and greatest success within the game.