The fascinating story of the man behind the pencil putting grip
I have a vivid memory of a man holing putt after putt after putt on daytime television in the early 1980s. His patter was as good as his putter and, as a golf-obsessed 12-year-old, I sat there glued to this exhibition.
For the past 30-plus years I have wondered if this actually took place or whether it was a figment of my young imagination. Whoever this man was he was continually knocking in a succession of short putts and, over the course of the programme, he didn’t miss once.
That man was Paul Trevillion, a name you should certainly recognise given his drawing exploits. He illustrated the cartoon feature ‘You Are The Ref’ which began in the Sunday People in 1957 before moving to the Observer and Guardian.
Otherwise he has drawn Roy of the Rovers, featured in almost every national newspaper, and has led the most incredible life. In the course of our 90-minute conversation he drops in, not at all in a boastful way, his dealings with Winston Churchill, the Duke of Edinburgh, Pele, George Best, Bobby Moore, Michael Jordan and Sugar Ray Robinson.
He did a summer season with Norman Wisdon – “He was a Brighton fan, he wanted to be a goalkeeper” – and he was the brains behind the sock tags, names on tracksuits, and warming up early for Don Revie’s great Leeds United side of the 1970s.
He is possibly the most amazing character I’ve ever spoken to. Now 84, he still speaks at a rate of knots. The stories of the past 70-plus years come flying out from all angles and he, or maybe his wife Lorraine, can lay hands on the most astonishing press cuttings and documents. His house must be a treasure chest.
But among all the stories of Churchill – “Mine was the first portrait he ever liked, I got him smiling, he was my big hero” – it was golf that we were here to talk about and, again, Trevillion has the most fascinating back story: The Tottenham Hotspur fanatic who was born a short distance from his heroes at White Hart Lane and who can’t read or write is the brains behind the pencil putting grip.
The grip that you have seen Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Branden Grace, Michelle Wie and all the others win around the world with was first created by Trevillion.
And within time he would proclaim himself the greatest putter in the world, backed up by world tours where Trevillion would take on all comers from four feet. One wide-eyed punter put up his car in a head-to-head, shortly after Trevillion was running a Rover 2000.
It’s an incredible story and is best told in Trevillion’s words…
“I always wanted to sit in the crowd, I wanted to see the players’ faces, I wanted some of the mud kicked over me and I would always draw on the back of the programme. I would practise my drawing in the air-raid shelters.
The Leeds sock tags came about by getting the players to give them to the kids in the crowd after. That way they will all be talking about it at school and that will bring in more fans. I mentioned the idea and the names on the back of the tracksuits to Bill Nicholson at Tottenham but he said it’s not for us.
I was born two minutes from White Hart Lane. As an early birthday present I went to see Spurs vs. Everton. My dad was a bus conductor and he worked his shifts around this. I couldn’t take my eyes off Dixie Dean. From that moment I became a sports artist. I didn’t want to draw animals or birds, I wanted to draw footballers.
Twenty years on I did Dixie’s life story for the Liverpool Echo. I support Spurs but I follow other teams. I worked with George Best, and I did the Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker books, but the best footballer I’ve ever seen is John Charles. He was unbelievable.
I always carry a pencil around with me. I once met the Duke of Edinburgh at a cricket function and I couldn’t take my eyes off him, so I did a drawing of him inside the programme. I just sketched away, and at the end they asked for the programme as you weren’t allowed to take any notes.
We got talking and I told him I was a sports artist.
Then I met Len Hutton and that was the first time that I started thinking about the straight line on the ground that brought about the pencil grip.
He told me to imagine a straight line on the ground and to go straight back and straight through. I became an expert on playing the straight drive, I was taught by the best.
I went to see Peter Alliss to do a golf strip with the Express. I didn’t know much about golf so they sent me to see Dai Rees.
I held the club like a cricket bat and he said you don’t hold the club like that. He said you had to hold it in the Vardon grip and, if it was good enough for Bobby Jones or Jack Nicklaus, then it was good enough for me.
I wanted to hold it like a cricket bat but he told me I had no clubhead speed. I told him I’m an artist, I don’t want clubhead speed.
I saw Peter and told him I wasn’t into golf and that I couldn’t do the strip – I just wanted to hit the ball with a split-handed grip.
I asked him about putting and he said there were all sorts of different grips for putting.
I showed him my split grip and I holed the putt. He said that’s not bad but you must grip the club like this. He taught me the Vardon grip but I wanted to have my hands apart like the snooker players and Hutton. Anyway, we did the strip and I was pleased with it.
I did Pebble Mill in the ’80s and Alan Ball and Adam Faith were watching. They rang me up afterwards and asked if I would give them a putting lesson.
I can’t read or write, I never went to school. The Spurs training ground was just across the road so that was my school and Sir Alf Ramsey and Bill Nicholson were my teachers. I would draw them all.
At my 11-plus for a technical college I couldn’t read the question exam so I did a drawing on the back and they rang me up and offered me a place.
I don’t know what joined up writing is, my wife sends my emails. I don’t know what these machines are in the house. If you open up my glasses case you will find my address and phone number in there – I don’t know my own address, I’ve got a selective mind.
Trevillion continues his fascinating tale on the next page…