I was a golf writer for a time. One morning, several days before a tournament, I encountered Lee Trevino putting on a practice green. I had a question I'd always wanted to ask him: was he really a `Merry Mex'?
For years I had heard him referred to that way by TV color men and sportswriters. Sure, Trevino could be funny. And he had brought humor to the professional golf tour, which sorely needed it.
But sometimes, under the laughter, he seemed mirthless. And often, when he turned away from a gallery after playing to it with humor, his eyes were sad.
So I asked him: ``This stuff about the Merry Mex'. Is it authentic?''
He looked at me for a moment. A man approached and asked Trevino for his autograph. Trevino turned to him and said, severely, ``Can't you see I am talking to this man?'' I felt sorry for the man, but at that moment I saw a different Trevino. So did the man.
Trevino looked at me again, then said, ``Look at this.'' He opened his mouth wide. He was asking me to look into his mouth. With a finger he pointed to his lower molars. They were ground to nubs. He had been fitted for a device he wore in his sleep to lessen the damage he did by grinding his teeth in his sleep.
The grinding was brought on by tension and stress which were brought on by making a living competing in a white sport played before white crowds. Being a `Merry Mex'' while playing in tournaments could divert the racists, and Trevino, a survivor if there ever was one, played the game.
If some idiot yelled, ``Hey, Merry Mex', you having beans for dinner tonight?'' Trevino'd laugh and wave. It was better than having the guy yell something even more hurting while Trevino lined up a putt that could mean making the tournament cut.
But more than playing the game, Trevino won it. Forced to work in Texas cotton fields at age five, then hustle for groceries on the golf course, even surviving being struck by lightning, he eventually became one of the game's greats, with a half dozen major championships. But it came at a cost, including his molars, and perhaps even more majors.
So I wrote the story and it went out on the wires. Sports Illustrated did a similar story. In that piece, Trevino was washing the windows of his posh North Dallas house. A woman drove up and asked him how much he charged to do windows. He said something like, ``Lady, I sleep with the woman in this house.'' The lady drove off in a huff.
The stories didn't help – I still hear empty-headed TV commentators and writers refer to Trevino as the Merry Mex', expecting, I suppose, a chuckle from appreciative listeners and readers. And I have seen Trevino over the last few years respond ``positively'' to the chortling people calling him Merry Mex'. What the hell, sometimes you just get tired. Even Wikpedia calls him the Merry Mex'.
I thought about all this recently with the Tiger Woods' episode. Yes, it's a horror. My fear is it's going to unleash the racists within golf's galleries, especially late in the day during tournaments when the beer's flowing heavily and the drunks start getting out of control. Instead of ``You the man,'' they might start yelling other things when Tiger's in range. If they are about infidelity and being less than forthright, that's one thing; if they go beyond, that's another.
Woods, of course, would not play the Merry anything. First, it's a different time. Second, he's simply not cut that way, and I'm not saying Trevino is any less a person because he did play the game – in his case, it was a matter of survival, of puting food on the table. In Woods case it could lead to violence. Tiger himself wouldn't stand for much abuse, and neither would Steve Williams, his athletic caddy with a legendary temper.
The other strong possibility is Woods, perhaps the game's greatest player ever, will simply walk away from the game. That would make golf, which until recent years has had a wretched record of racial bias, anything but merry. There's a certain irony in that.
Causes Steve Hauk Supports
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...