ORLANDO, Fla. -- When Lee Trevino captured his second U.S. Open title at Merion Golf Club in 1971, it wasn’t the prestige of winning a major championship in a playoff that mattered so much to the eighth-grade dropout with the homemade swing. As revealed in 1971 U.S. OPEN: LEE TREVINO AN AMERICAN CHAMPION, premiering Sunday, June 9, at 5 p.m. ET on NBC, it was the fact that he beat Jack Nicklaus – “the best in world” – to do it, which helped him turn a career corner and made him feel like he truly belonged in the fraternity of professional golfers.
As the U.S. Open returns to Merion June 13-16, NBC and Golf Channel will present 1971 U.S. OPEN: LEE TREVINO AN AMERICAN CHAMPION, a 60-minute retrospective documenting Trevino’s victory and how he claimed his place among the great champions in U.S. Open history. Produced by Golf Channel in association with the United States Golf Association, the documentary also will replay on Monday, June 17 at 10 p.m. ET on Golf Channel and throughout June.
The 1971 U.S. Open at Merion was one of six major championships won by Trevino, a Mexican-American who embodies the eclectic spirit of U.S. Open champions who have come from myriad backgrounds to claim the game’s most coveted title. Narrated by Academy Award-nominated actor Andy Garcia, 1971 U.S. OPEN: LEE TREVINO AN AMERICAN CHAMPION captures the drama that unfolded that week in June just outside Philadelphia, and tells the story of Trevino’s rise from an impoverished childhood to become arguably the greatest shot maker and one of the most beloved personalities the game has ever seen. The documentary was produced by 12-time Emmy Award-winning Golf Channel producer Israel DeHerrera, and written by Aaron Cohen, winner of 18 Emmy Awards whose work has been featured in acclaimed documentaries for HBO, as well as for NBC, ESPN, NFL and MLB.
As in 1971, this year’s U.S. Open will be played on a golf course that’s relatively short, tight and penal, and one where par golf is great golf. Reminiscing about “the hardest damn course I’ve ever seen,” Trevino recently was quoted about what the 1971 victory really meant to him. “Merion gave me my career. Up until Merion, the way this played out, I never felt comfortable. I never thought that I belonged,” he said. “So when I got into the playoff and I beat Jack … what I took away was, it wasn’t so much that I had won the Open for the second time, it was who I defeated to do it. It finally made me feel like I belonged in the fraternity.”
Interspersed with newly created interviews with Trevino and Nicklaus, 1971 U.S. OPEN: LEE TREVINO AN AMERICAN CHAMPION tells the complete story of the championship from the opening round through the Monday playoff. The program covers events both on and off the golf course and includes perspectives about Trevino’s life and career from friends, current and past players, historians and golf media, as well as historical photographs and archival interviews. Some of the personalities interviewed for the documentary include: TV icon and golf essayist Jack Whitaker; golfers Johnny Miller, Andy North, Curtis Strange, Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, Lanny Wadkins, and Tom Watson; USGA historians Rand Jerris and Michael Trostel; and Merion Golf Club historian and archivist John Capers III.
“Lee Trevino’s duel with Jack Nicklaus deserves to be remembered as one of the great moments in U.S. Open history,” said USGA President Glen D. Nager. “This year’s return of the championship to Merion Golf Club serves as the perfect opportunity to work with NBC and Golf Channel to tell the story and celebrate one of its most colorful champions.”
“Lee Trevino is truly a man of the game and there’s no question about his rightful place among the game’s all-time elite players and personalities,” said Golf Channel President Mike McCarley. “We’ll not only capture his life story with this retrospective, but also will remember an epic U.S. Open playoff at a legendary golf course our viewers will get to know all over again this year.”
For the first three days, the 1971 U.S. Open featured a mishmash of contenders. But as they often do, the championship finally came down to a duel between heavyweights – this time Nicklaus and Trevino. Missing a six-footer on the 72nd hole to win in regulation, Trevino fell into a tie with Nicklaus, forcing a Monday playoff. The tension on the first tee was thick but soon lifted as the ever-playful Trevino pulled a rubber snake from his golf bag, held it up for the gathered crowd to see and tossed it at Nicklaus, who broke out laughing. When play commenced, an early deficit for Trevino turned, ultimately, into a three-stroke victory. On the final hole, he ran onto the green with his trademark smile, blew an appreciative kiss to the gallery and sank his putt for the win.
Of the six major championships Trevino won in his career, four required him to defeat Nicklaus at his best, and he did it all with his trademark charisma and fun-loving style. As the first person of Hispanic descent to claim a U.S. major championship, his contribution to the game is undeniable. He had overcome poverty and a professional game that was slow to accept outsiders. He pursued the game not for its prestige but as a way to support his family, and he created a legacy that continues to inspire the future of the game.
1971 U.S. OPEN: LEE TREVINO AN AMERICAN CHAMPION joins a list of critically acclaimed Golf Channel Original Documentaries, which includes Uneven Fairways, Caddy for Life, Frank Chirkinian: The Master Storyteller, American Triumvirate, War by the Shore, and Go Annika.
NBC Live Extra/Golf Live Extra:
NBC Sports Group’s comprehensive coverage of the 2013 U.S. Open Championship will be streamed live via TV Everywhere across NBC and Golf Channel digital platforms on desktop, mobile devices and tablets.
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