1968 U.S. Open
Oak Hill played a starring role in the birth of a golfing legend when Lee Trevino - heretofore just another nameless touring pro - launched his Hall of Fame career by making the ’68 Open his first PGA Tour victory.
Trevino came to Oak Hill with about 20 bucks in his pocket and a garment bag with three shirts and three pairs of slacks, then became the first player in history to post four sub-70 rounds in an Open championship. His 5-under-par 275 tied the Open scoring record set a year earlier by Jack Nicklaus, the same Nicklaus who fired up a warning shot the day before the tournament began when he said “Lee Trevino could win this tournament.”
Trevino opened with a 69, and said he’d “love to shoot three more of those.” Well, he managed two more, and threw in a second-round 68 for good measure to outdistance Nicklaus by a comfortable four-stroke margin.
Well, maybe not that comfortable. “I was so nervous I couldn’t get my shots airborne,” the Merry Mex recalled years later. “If you look at the tape all my shots were line drives I was choking so bad.”
Trevino and Bert Yancey battled for the lead for three days, yet no one in Rochester paid much attention to Trevino and he remembered sitting in a golf cart one night drinking a beer and not once being asked for an autograph.
But during the fourth round, the world found out who Trevino was, and no one has stopped asking for his signature since. That day, Yancey skied to a 76 and while Nicklaus made a charge with a 67, it wasn’t nearly enough to catch Trevino.
And if you think hoisting the Open trophy was exciting, that was nothing compared to what happened in the scorers’ tent at the conclusion of the tournament.
“The highlight of that week was meeting Arnold Palmer for the first time,” Trevino said. “I was sitting there signing my card and he came over, shook my hand, and said ‘Nice going, young man.’ Man, that was something.”
Between the 1956 and 1968 U.S. Opens at Oak Hill, Arnold Palmer became the most popular golfer in the world. His galleries were enormous wherever he played, and that was certainly the case at the East Course’s 13th hole even though he was never in contention during the ’68 tournament, finishing 59th. He was even being spied on by the Goodyear blimp off in the distance.
Hord Hardin, who at this time was the President of the USGA before going on to become the chairman of Augusta National, presents the Open trophy to Lee Trevino. It was the Merry Mex’s first of 29 victories on the PGA Tour. “It was an unforgettable week for me," Trevino said. "Rochester will always have a special place in my memory.’’
Twenty-one years after winning the Times-Union Open, Sam Snead played at Oak Hill for the final time in the ’68 Open. Trying to complete the career grand slam, the 56-year-old shot 68 in the fourth round and finished ninth. When told that he shot a 67 in the final round of the T-U Open, Snead remarked “I must be slipping.”
Golf on television has come a long way from its primitive roots in the 1950s. At the ’68 Open, ABC was the host network, and here is one of the trucks that was on hand at Oak Hill. The broadcasters for the event were, from left, Jim McKay, Bill Fleming, Byron Nelson and Chris Schenkel.