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JIM MURRAY

This Look Can Kill and When Floyd Got It the Open Was Closed

June 16, 1986|JIM MURRAY

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Tomorrow took another beating. It might have to be canceled. Hold back the dawn one more time.

The oldest player ever to win an Open won it here Sunday.

We get a man who has paid his dues, who has stayed the course. We have a guy winning his 20th tournament, not his second or third. We get a marquee name. We get a player in the traditions of the Hogans, Nicklauses, Joneses, Hagens and Sarazens.

We get Raymond Loran Floyd. It's about time he won an Open. He's won everything else. It's fitting, it's just. Like a Barrymore winning an Oscar, a Willie Mays winning a batting championship, Notre Dame a Rose Bowl.

Golf can rest content tonight. Shinnecock Hills has done its job. It has contributed to golf, not confused it.

Raymond Floyd is known in every locker room in America. He is one of the super-recognizable silhouettes on tour, one of the most familiar and most colorful of the cast of characters that make up this traveling group of players.

Raymond Floyd in another era would be a guy on a river boat dealing faro, a fellow with his own pool cue or dice.

He found that golf was better than four aces. He was almost the youngest player ever to hit the golf tour and when he won a tournament his first year at age 20, he thought it was so easy he didn't have to work at it.

He would really have rather been the second baseman for the Chicago Cubs, anyway. Or the last guy out of the bar.

Raymond won golf tournaments on his way to the discos or nightclubs in his early years. He tried to win just enough money to keep his bar tabs open.

He won on sheer talent. His idea of "sacrifice" was to get home by sunrise.

He was a freebooter. He used to play $100 Nassaus in his native North Carolina about the time other kids were learning to pitch pennies. Raymond was one of the hardcore golf types who teed it up with strangers who didn't know who they were and found out only when the bets had been pressed and lost.

Raymond didn't think about things like U.S. Opens, British Opens, PGA's. His idea of a "major" was a tournament where the presses added up to a grand, or someone said, "Hey, aren't you a professional, buddy?"

His swing never put you in mind of Sammy Snead's or Bobby Jones' or Tommy Bolt's or Gene Sarazen's or even Gene Littler's. It was his own concoction. He just kind of took the club back and hit the ball like a guy beating a carpet.

But it was effective. Besides, he could one-putt a swamp and get the ball out of an ocean with backspin on it. He often played heart-attack golf but he was such a tenacious competitor that, once he got a lead, you might as well have stopped the tournament. Ray Floyd was harder to get past than Man o' War.

He won 10 tournaments before he began to take the game seriously. Once, a reporter found him on the 17th green of a British Open with a short putt for a birdie and a share of the lead. Floyd spotted the fellow American. He sidled over. "Did you hear how the Cubs came out yesterday?" he wanted to know. In an historic tournament with a chance to win, the only history he was concerned with was the National League's.

He admits himself he should have won a fistful more majors in his career. He was in contention in a dozen but it was hard for them to keep his attention.

But he looked around one day and realized no one on the tour could put up any numbers on a scoreboard any better than Raymond Floyd. "I lacked discipline," he admitted in the press room of the 86th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Sunday.

He lacked dedication, too. All that changed with marriage to Maria. Raymond recognized his responsibilities to golf and to himself. He invested more of Raymond Floyd in his career. It was no longer kind of complicated card games in a firehouse, it was a career.

He could play the most incandescent golf on the tour when he put his mind to it. He won tournaments the way Secretariat won races, wire-to-wire and breezing. He won a Masters by a record-tying 271 one year and he threw a little 63 at the difficult Southern Hills course in winning his second PGA in 1982.

They say you can tell on the golf tour when Raymond Floyd is on the spoor of first money, when he is about to take the golf course by the jugular. "He gets this look," Payne Stewart, who played the final Open round with him Sunday, admitted. "His eyes get big and round and they seem to be staring at something you can't see."

Raymond Floyd got that look on the 12th hole Sunday. The field was so bunched at the time it looked like a quarter-horse race. Something like seven players were tied for the lead. People had heard of a tournament that it seemed nobody could win, this one looked like a tournament everybody could win.

On the 12th hole, Floyd's playing partner had taken a lead (he was shortly to squander) and Raymond had driven the ball in a fairway bunker. He could only wedge it out to the front of the green where he wedged it again 20 feet from the hole.

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