Lee Trevino was sitting under an umbrella with Jerry Heard at the edge of a marsh on the 13th hole of the Butler National Golf Club. They were playing together in the 1975 Western Open, though play was suspended because of a storm.
Suddenly, a fiery surge tore through their bodies. Lightning, striking somewhere close by, had traveled through the marsh and jumped the banks, entering the two players by way of the metal golf spikes in their shoes. It exited through their backs, leaving burn marks. Both players were knocked out, and both players were affected for life. Trevino would go on to have two back operations, and Heard would have one as well. Trevino eventually returned to greatness. Heard never did.
That terrible moment was brought back to Trevino Thursday at the Hazeltine National Golf Club. Early in the afternoon a brutal and brief thunderstorm ripped through the club about 12:40 and sent down a bolt of lightning that struck six spectators standing under a willow tree near the 11th tee. One of them, 27-year-old William Fadell of Spring Park, Minn., later died in a hospital. After a delay of 2 hours 41 minutes because the USGA feared there were other heavy weather cells in the area, play resumed at 3:30.
About 45 minutes later, Trevino finished his round with a five-over-par 77, glad to be alive, shaking his head at the death of a golf fan. "It's really got to put a cloud over this tournament," he said. "How can you set here and get frustrated by shooting 77 when someone died?"
The events of 16 years ago still are vivid. He remembers the instant that lightning struck him, like two ball-peen hammers smashing at his ears. "Beeeuuuu!" he described it, his arms spreading wide, his legs shooting out in front of him at he sat at his locker. He then went on to tell, in his animated way, how his body was exploding with electricity, how he was shaking uncontrollably. Then there was peace. "It was a nice, warm feeling," Trevino said.
"Evidently, I was gone. The electricity stopped my heart. When I woke up, I was in pain. The doctor said if I hadn't had such a strong heart I would be dead."
Trevino was approaching the 15th green Thursday when he saw the lightning. The USGA official accompanying Trevino's group, which included Jumbo Ozaki and Jose-Maria Olazabal, told them play was being suspended, but the players finished out the 15th hole, as is their right. Trevino felt no sense of panic. "It's because I'm dumb," he said.
Trevino expressed amazement that more people aren't killed at golf tournaments. "You have the Senior Tour, the regular tour, the Hogan Tour, the LPGA, that's millions of spectators a year," he said. "You know what they say when the air horn blows and the players start walking off the course? They'll sit up in the bleachers and say, 'Where are you sissies going?' The bottom line is they all say, 'It isn't going to happen to me.' "