Giving Raymond Floyd a lead going into a final round is like sending rice to China, money to Switzerland, ice to Siberia. It's nice, but it's not necessary.
Floyd on a golf course is like Johnny Longden on a horse. You can get to him. You can't get by him. He brings new meaning to the word front-runner.
He could be caught by Dave Stockton, Hale Irwin or Isao Aoki three shots behind--but that may not be the way to bet.
Floyd is a master at keeping a field in his rearview mirror. But his job may have been made easier this week because the field here at the U.S. Senior Open at Riviera Country Club seems to be paralyzed with fear over the presence of a few clumps of grass.
It's hard to believe a few weeds could inspire such panic in grown men, but the players this week act as if they were in the clutches of one of those man-eating shrubs in the South Pacific. I have known people to be calmer diving in a school of sharks.
Look! Riviera is a pretty fair test of golf all on its own--7,000 yards of sylvan tranquillity punctuated by moments of stark terror. The pros approach it with caution.
But it doesn't have a drop of water on it. The ocean is several miles to the west.
It doesn't even have a proper dogleg on it.
Just hit it straight.
But the pros this week just couldn't seem to do that. As a result they kept finding their balls in the diabolic tangle of undergrowth known as kikuyu or elephant grass.
"Hardest blankety-blank rough to hit out of I've ever seen," complained even a crack ball-striker such as Chi Chi Rodriguez. Larry Nelson, winner of a U.S. Open and two PGA Championships, concurred. Gary McCord, hardly Ben Hogan, and a player who has been in lots of rough in his career, couldn't believe what he was playing in. "You seen that stuff?" he demanded. "Quicksand would be easier."
Examples abounded. Defending champion Graham Marsh missed a ball altogether in this witches' stew. A guy named Jim Frederick missed the cut by shooting a mind-boggling 42 over par. Forty-two!
The Larry Ziegler epic suffices to make the point: Ziegler got so mad at the course, he carded a nine on the 18th hole Saturday but he maliciously wrote down 12 so he could get disqualified and out of here. A golf version of self-immolation. "You can't get a club on that stuff!" he roared.
But wait a minute! This is golf we're talking about here, right? Not brain surgery.
It's not even a contact sport. As I have noted before, this is a game where a late hit means a "slice," not a fracture. Where "rough" does not refer to Bryan Cox or Andrew Golota but a bit of unmown lawn. Where hardly anybody gets bitten in the ear. Where hardly anybody ends up on crutches.
The game is played at a leisurely stroll. The most terrifying thing a golfer will see is a downhill putt.
No one ever gets carried off this field. The holes are guarded by sand boxes, not men named "Too Tall" or "Mean Joe" or even Dennis Rodman.
You can play the game if you're as fat as a bartender or as emaciated as a prisoner of war. A "cut" is a score, not 20 stitches over the eye.
There's no heavy lifting. You have a guy to carry your clubs and tell you which way to putt.
Troy Aikman gets headaches for a living. You think Tiger Woods will ever be carried off on a stretcher?
A "catastrophe" is a double bogey. As I have noted, when a prizefighter or a race driver says "Something terrible happened to me," he says it through a body cast with only his eyes and mouth showing. When a golfer says "Something terrible happened to me," he means he missed the cut.
The ball doesn't curve, flutter, come at you at 99 mph. It just sits there. Players might complain about the difficulty walking up to an elevated green, but to a mountain climber it's about as difficult as bedroom stairs.
So, why would a guy be ready to call 911 over a few clumps of grass?
Well, to begin with, those clumps of grass are like armed muggers in Central Park. They'll take your money. They'll make off with your Rolexes, heist next month's rent.
But, there's a simple solution that seems to have eluded most of the field this week.
Some years ago, I asked the great Sam Snead the best way to handle sand traps. "Don't get in 'em,' " Snead advised. End of lesson.
It's not a bad piece of advice for the golfers trying to catch Raymond Floyd. He may be harder to catch than the Abominable Snowman, but you might begin by keeping it between the lines of deep grass. As Snead would say: Don't get in it. If you get in there, it'll be another victory lap for Floyd, a parade down Broadway. He'll be the one holding the cup.