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On This Date in Sports July 15, 1972: The Merry Mex in Murfield

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Lee Trevino holds off a hard-charging Jack Nicklaus to win his second straight Open Championship by one stroke with a six under par 278 at Muirfield in Scotland. The big shot comes on the 17th hole when Trevino drops in a 30-foot chip shot off the green using a 9-iron to save par. Trevino is the first golfer to win the Claret Jug in back-to-back years in a decade.

Born in Dallas in 1939, Lee Trevino was often called “The Merry Mex” or “Supermex” by his fellow competitors. A popular player on tour, Trevino, a gravedigger's son, was introduced to golf by an uncle and worked as a caddy at a local golf club after dropping out of high school. After serving in the Marines, Lee Trevino became a tour professional in El Paso. In 1966 Trevino qualified for the U.S. Open and made the cut; a year later, he finished fifth and earned his tour card by making $6,000. In 1968, Lee Trevino proved he belonged on the tour, winning the U.S. Open at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. After winning the U.S. Open, Lee Trevino became one of the most popular golfers. His best year was in 1971 when he won the U.S. Open for a second time and the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. His unlikely story from dropout caddy to golf champion gave the country club sport a common man’s touch, which helped him win the “Sports Illustrated: Sportsman of the Year.”

Arriving at Muirfield in Scotland, Lee Trevino was looking to become the first player to defend the Claret Jug since Arnold Palmer in 1962. Jack Nicklaus came in looking to capture golf’s grand slam after winning the Masters and U.S. Open. Trevino started the tournament by shooting a par-71 in Wednesday’s opening round. Nicklaus finished one stroke better, with a one-under-par 70, which put him two strokes behind Peter Tupling, who had the round of the day with a three-under 68. 

The second round saw harsh playing conditions; Trevino recorded one of the only scores under par with a 70, moving into a share of the lead with Tony Jacklin at -1. Meanwhile, Nicklaus lost a stroke, shooting a 72, and was at par midway through the tournament. The third round on Friday was moving day, and Lee Trevino moved to the front of the leaderboard, shooting a five-under-par 66 to hold a one-stroke lead over Jacklin. Meanwhile, Jack Nicklaus was fifth after shooting a par-71. After swimming near par the entire tournament, Nicklaus recorded a five-under-par 66 to put pressure on Trevino and Tony Jacklin, who were the final pairing. Sitting in the clubhouse at -5 after a 279. Nicklaus could only watch as Trevino made the big shot on the 17th hole. Lee Trevino would shoot a par-71 on the final day to finish the tournament at -6 with a 278, while Jacklin finished in third place with a 280 after a two-over par 72 on the final day.

Lee Trevino would win two more majors in his career, taking the Wanamaker at the PGA Championship in 1974 and 1984. However, he never could complete the career grand slam as he was never able to win the Green Jacket, often struggling badly at the Augusta National Golf Club, as he only cracked the Top 10 twice in his career.