Guts, Grit And Grandeur: Raymond Floyd wins the 1986 U.S. Open
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."
But when Floyd arose on Thursday to begin his good war on the U.S. Open, he discovered a funny thing. Outside his window, rain and wind were making it look like the British Open. Maybe that was only fitting considering the surroundings.
Shinnecock Hills, 95 years old, is a links-ish lady of ill-tempered rough, small, slick greens and ravenous bunkers, ones that seem to reproduce overnight. The last time the United States Golf Association held the Open at Shinnecock was in 1896, and most of the players had never even seen the course before last week. With Thursday's wicked, sometimes violent, rains and winds that reached 40 miles per hour, getting home under par on the old course was not the question. Getting home at all was. Only Tway, who has already won twice this year, shot par, which is 70. Norman was one back. The average score was 75.32. Forty-five players shot 80 or worse, and one of them was very nearly Nicklaus, who pulled a Magic Johnson on the back nine with a triple double -- double bogeys at 10, 13 and 18, including a lost ball at 10, the first he could recall losing since the British Amateur in 1959. Luckily, he had extras.
For Floyd's part, he was in at 75 and happy about it. "I won the tournament on Thursday," Floyd would say Sunday. "I played terrible, had no feel and somehow survived."
Floyd was bogeyless on Friday, and his 68 kept him four behind the leader, Norman, and one behind Trevino, who was going as well as ever at 47. "If I win," Trevino said, "my wife has promised me a son. If I win, we're staying indoors until Friday."
Powerful incentive, but could either of them hope to reel in Australia's Great White Shark, Norman, who had won $415,535 in the two months since he bogeyed the last hole to lose to Nicklaus at the Masters? "Greg Norman is playing as well right now as anybody I've seen in a long, long time," said Nicklaus himself, and that seemed even truer Saturday. Norman shot 71 to keep a one-shot lead over Trevino and Sutton, who had dealt himself in with a 66. So what fate would keep Norman, 31 and so hugely talented, from winning a major this time? Remember the Masters? Remember Winged Foot and the Open in 1984?
"I'm smarter than I was at Winged Foot," Norman said. "I'm street-smarter. The more you play on the American tour, the tougher you get."
Boy, is Norman getting tough. Minutes after double-bogeying 13 on Saturday, he was confronted with some obstreperous fans. "You're chokin', Norman!" said one of the rowdy bunch, shark-baiting. Norman slapped his eight-iron shot to the 14th green, then marched directly to the gallery ropes and called down the offending customer, a semiconscious fan wearing an open white shirt, red nose and a smile.
"C'mere!" Norman said. Norman waggled a finger in his face. "If you want to say that, then say it to me afterward. But until then, shut your face!"
Bobby Jones promptly did a 360 in his grave. Any minute, you expected the Flyers' front line to join in. This was history being made. What do golfers do when they fight, anyway, throw down their gloves?
"I just felt like I had to get it off my chest," Norman said after the round. "Maybe that was a mistake. But I would have been upset otherwise.... I guess people in this part of the world are upset because we've got the America's Cup."
You don't think Norman has a sore spot about the choking label some people are sticking him with, do you? Nahhhhh. This finally looked like his chance, and it would be gone for good and.....
fifteen minutes into his Sunday round, Norman's lead had been gobbled up. For the next two hours, owning part of the lead at the U.S. Open was about as prestigious as making the telephone book. At exactly 4:25 p.m., EDT, Floyd birdied the par-3 11th to complete a nine-way tie for first.
"One thing I know about the final nine holes of the U.S. Open," Floyd would say later, "is that everybody starts making bogeys." And, one by one, eight of the nine fell flat:
Norman. He bogeyed No. 9 one minute after the nine-way rush and was never heard from again. He shot 75 and finished 12th. Health tip: If you happen to see him, don't bring it up.
Stewart, GQ's finest. By birdieing 11 and 12, he took a one-shot lead, but then missed a three-footer for par at 13 and bogeyed 14. He disappeared into the bubbling vat of ex-leaders and finished tied for sixth.
Beck. This new pupil of teaching pro extraordinaire L.B. Floyd, Raymond's father, made four straight birdies coming in on his way to a course-record 65 but missed a three-foot birdie putt on 18. As it was, he finished two shots back and tied for second.
Wadkins. Another run made too late. His 65 tied Beck at two back for second place.
Sutton. Mending from another divorce, the man the caddies call "Halimony" was after some collateral and took a share of the lead by birdieing the arduous 447-yard uphill par-4 9th. But Sutton bogeyed 12 and then 15 and finished tied for fourth. Will $26,269 do?
Crenshaw. By bogeying 12 he fell from grace and never returned, an unhappy ending to a meteoric start in which he birdied four of the first six holes. He tied for sixth, yet made more birdies than anybody in the field.
McCumber. Nursing a tender back, McCumber came to the par-5 16th two shots off the lead, tried to fly a nine-iron at the flag and instead found the bunker. He made a McCumbersome double bogey and tied for eighth.
Tway. With a birdie at 14, he became the last of the ninesome with a chance to catch Floyd, but 16 brought twouble. Playing the hole without benefit of fairway, he didn't reach the green until his fourth shot, then three-putted. He tied for eighth, but still emerged as a tour rarity -- a player of immense talent and composure at only 27. "Hey, if you're looking for a dad-burn superstar, look at this kid," said Tway's playing partner, Trevino. "He was so good today, I wanted to caddie for him."
All of which left Raymond Loran Floyd, who, beginning with a 20-foot par putt at 12, played flawlessly the rest of the way. He hit every fairway and every green but one from there on (14 in all), made simple birdie putts -- 4 feet at 13, 10 feet at 16 -- and, more important, never flinched, never blinked, never stepped one spike's worth off line. After 156 players and 72 holes, only one man had played Shinnecock Hills under par, Floyd: 75-68-70-66, for a 279. Whether the man is 23 or 43, Raymond Floyd cannot be folded, stapled or mutilated.
"I know I'm in a young man's game," Floyd said. "I don't consider myself old. I'm old, but I don't feel old. I can play with the young guys."
That he has proved. He has now won 20 tournaments, four majors, and lacks only the British Open for a career slam. And he may just be warming up. "What Jack did at the Masters was one of the most thrilling things I've ever seen," he said. "And I hope my winning the Open will help people recognize us. Hey, we've been around.... I was rookie of the year in 1963 and now, 23 years later, I've won again."
And how long can Floyd go on winning? 2001? His caddie, Seymour Johnson, has it figured: "Ray's the type of player, he don't know when he's past his prime."
Until he learns, until he and Trevino and Nicklaus and the rest of the Dorian Gray foursomes get it through their thick, graying skulls that they're supposed to be rocking on a porch somewhere knitting head covers. Until then we are stuck with nothing to do but sit back and marvel at their miracles, ponder the youthful powers of places like Augusta and Shinnecock and wonder if perhaps Jay Gatsby, another guy who made a splash on Long Island, didn't know more about golf than he let on....
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.