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GOLF / SENIORS AT OJAI : Trevino Making Everyone Work Harder

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Until Lee Trevino came along to shake things up, the Senior PGA Tour was mostly a joy ride.

Sure, the 50-and-older group was making more money than it had ever dreamed and the old-timers were finding it was fun to win again. But mostly, it was a chance for old friends to get together for a relaxing weekend.

But then Trevino showed up and won more than $1 million in his rookie season, prompting a major transformation. The senior tour became competitive. The golfers, who had confined practice mostly to loosening up and developing new putting styles, suddenly turned serious.

They started tending to business, spending hours on the practice tee perfecting their games. It has paid off.

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Maybe Trevino will win his second consecutive tournament in the $450,000, 54-hole GTE West Classic, which, weather permitting, starts today at the Ojai Valley Inn and Country Club, but it doesn’t figure to be easy.

Except for Jack Nicklaus, who is playing in the PGA Tour event at Miami, and Mike Hill, whose father-in-law died this week, all the top players on the senior tour will be on hand.

Whether they will be playing today is another matter. Torrential rains forced postponement of Thursday’s pro-am and left small lakes not previously encountered.

Tournament Director Skip Whittet said the course drains well and if the rain stops, the course can quickly be made playable.

“There were two inches of rain (Wednesday) night and that forced (Thursday’s) halt,” Whittet said. “But if it stops, we could play tomorrow.”

If the opening round is postponed, the tournament will be cut to 36 holes.

Here to challenge Trevino are Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Jim Dent, Charles Coody, Bruce Crampton and defending champion Walt Zembriski.

Also on hand will be Dale Douglass. Two weeks ago at Naples, Fla., Douglass shot a four-under-par 68 in the last round and lost when Trevino shot a 66 and won by a stroke.

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“I’ve won a lot of tournaments, but it hasn’t been easy,” Trevino said. “I was surprised at how well these guys play. And, as I said, they are starting to work harder. It will get tougher and tougher on this tour.

“Dale Douglass played a tremendous tournament at Naples. My putter was hot, but I really didn’t get the rest of my game going until the last day or I wouldn’t have won. This is now a competitive tour.

“I like it. Another thing I like about this tour is that I can bum a cigarette. Nobody has one on the other tour and you can’t even get a beer in the locker room. This is fun.”

The senior tour hasn’t always had the best weather luck. The 1989 senior event at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C., was wiped out by Hurricane Hugo. When the earthquake struck San Francisco that same fall, the tour was playing in Silverado.

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As Palmer said, though, nobody here can complain, because rain is needed so badly.

“We hope we’ll be able to play the tournament,” he said. “But it’s far more important to the people of California that the rains continue.”


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