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Guts, Grit And Grandeur: Raymond Floyd wins the 1986 U.S. Open

Raymond Floyd, U.S. Open
John Iacono/Sports Illustrated
Raymond Floyd poses with his 6-year-old daughter Christina after winning the U.S. Open in 1986.

In honor of Raymond Floyd's 71st birthday on Sept. 4, here is Rick Reilly's classic Sports Illustrated game story from Floyd's victory in the 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock, originally published on June 23, 1986.

Golf's time-tunnel tour came to Long Island's chichi Hamptons last week, to the land of tans and teeth and two-day workweeks, and it lingered there long enough to send us whirling back to the future again. Nine weeks earlier Jack Nicklaus, at 46, brought his overgrown putter and oversized heart to Augusta to steal the Masters. This time Nicklaus let one of the younger guys win -- 43-year-old Raymond Floyd, who simply stared down a United States Open, glared at it until it blinked, scowled at it and then stomped on it and thus became the oldest player ever to win it -- all under the shadow of the Shinnecock Hills clubhouse, the nation's oldest, a Stanford White relic built in 1892, 33 years before F. Scott Fitzgerald settled down on Long Island with Jay Gatsby.

First Nicklaus, now Floyd. Medicare is 2 for 2 in majors. So who needs a Senior Tour? This is a Senior Tour.

What we do is, we send all the junior members of the Tour back to the library to study some old O.B. Keeler books and we just keep Lee Trevino, Nicklaus and Floyd around. We wait until the under-40s fix the loops in their swings and the loopholes in their nerves, and then maybe we start over. What's next? Arnie takes Turnberry in July? Anybody have Hogan's home phone?

Why not? With Nicklaus and now Floyd -- five months older than Ted Ray, who was 43 when he won the Open in 1920 -- we've got a good chance at the Geritol Slam. Maybe the trophy could be a sculpture of a guy with an ice pack on his back, sitting down to gum some creamed corn and then turning in early. The Sunshine Boys have come out of their Cocoon. On today's tour Grecian Formula is top shelf, and anybody who didn't shed a tear for Benny Goodman probably wasn't going to be into the swing of things.

Floyd's and Nicklaus's triumphs over tenderfeet say this: If you're a flatbelly, maybe you're not leaving enough room for guts. And Floyd, not exactly a threat to produce his own workout video, has plenty of guts. On Sunday, he came crashing out of the teeming masses of midround leaders to win with a 66, leaving tread-marks up the spines of some of the game's best players -- Hal Sutton, Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Lanny Wadkins and Greg Norman.

And if Floyd's dance of the phoenix won't be as nationally adored as Nicklaus's, it should be. For what Floyd did on Father's Day Sunday at Shinnecock Hills was the golfing equivalent of passing a motorcycle gang across a double yellow line in the Holland Tunnel in a '63 Rambler. Sometimes it seemed there were more people leading the tournament on Sunday than there were watching it. In all, 10 had shared the lead, but 9 of those returned it. Not Floyd. Once Floyd had the lead by himself he never gave it back. Not Wadkins, not Bob Tway, not Crenshaw, not Sutton, not Norman, not Payne Stewart, not Mark McCumber, not Chip Beck, not Trevino -- nobody else could say that. It was an honor that belonged to Raymond Floyd alone. When Floyd is leading a tournament, it's time to make plane reservations.

It's that face, a face that, when Floyd's leading, gives off all the friendliness, exuberance and joie de vivre of, say, an embezzling CEO late for an interview with 60 Minutes. He is granite in double-knit slacks, an expressionless taskmaster of his own design. In his walk Sunday, in his brow, in his manner, in his eyes -- especially in his eyes -- there was that countenance of dogged pursuit, unswaying direction and undistractible attention.

"He is a very intense person on the golf course," said Stewart, Floyd's playing partner Sunday and one of the unfortunates who was scraping himself off the bottom of Floyd's spikes by the end of the day. "When he's playing well, like today, you can see it in his eyes. They get so big. Total concentration." Suffice it to say, Stewart and Floyd didn't chat much.

"He had that look today," said Maria Floyd, his wife of 13 years. "When he was walking from the 10th green to the 11th tee, I could all of a sudden see it in his eye. It's this starry look, a blank, like he's a race horse with blinders. He saw me but didn't see me. And I knew he had it under control. I had been nervous, but that look just calmed me. I've seen him win before without that look, but I've never seen him lose with it."

But where did he get it? And why just in time for the U.S. Open, a prize at the fair that Floyd has never won, the trapdoor under his career? In 21 previous tries he had finished in the top 10 only twice. Why now, only a week after the Westchester Classic, where Floyd had contended, then unraveled with a 77 on Sunday, losing to the aggressive Tway? It was a disastrous finish that had Floyd glum as he and Maria drove to Southampton with their three children, Raymond Jr., 11, Robert, 10, and Christina, 6.

"I had blown up inside and Maria wanted us to face it, and after a while I gave in and approached it with an open mind," Floyd said. "We turned a negative situation into a positive.... The conversation I had internally was severe, staunch. I felt that if I was ever going to win an Open, I had better get on with it, because there might not be that many chances left for me."

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