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Raymond Floyd's Heartbreak: The Golf Magazine Interview

Raymond Floyd
Angus Murray
Floyd, at Old Palm G.C. near Palm Beach, Fla., is adjusting to life without his wife, Maria, who died of cancer in September.

Hundreds of books line the shelves in Raymond Floyd's sunny, two-story condo at Old Palm Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. They're mostly golf books, so one well-thumbed title stands out: Don't Let Death Ruin Your Life, a guide to dealing with the loss of a loved one. In September, Maria Floyd died of a rare form of bladder cancer. They were married for nearly 40 years. "I had two careers," Floyd says. "The one before I met Maria, and the one after. She had a huge impact on me."

Indeed, 17 of his 22 PGA Tour wins and three of his four majors came after 1974, when Maria challenged her "lollygagging" husband to develop a work ethic to match his talent. "She made me the player I became." Floyd was understandably somber during a sit-down interview conducted three months after her death. His famous stare was not there; he rarely made eye contact. Yet he was as candid as ever, calling on his 50-plus years in professional golf to explain a few things, like why Tiger's not winning majors, why the Hall of Fame is "a joke," and why you should never, ever play Lee Trevino for money.

This is the 50th anniversary of your rookie year on Tour. If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be?
I wish I could go back and meet Maria earlier. She meant so much. I could've accomplished a lot more. Maria never let me quit. I would have worked harder, raised my goals, thought long-term and set the bar higher.

Last year you said, "Maria is strong and has been strong all her life." How was she strong?
I don't want to get emotional [long pause], but she had a cancer that was so rare that her doctors didn't think she would even get to surgery. But she lived a year and a half after surgery. And one month before she passed away, she went to a bladder-cancer conference in Vermont and talked in front of all these oncologists, surgeons and researchers -- even though it had metastasized to her brain. She got a standing ovation. I couldn't dream of doing that.

After winning Rookie of the Year honors in 1963 and the PGA in 1969, you went winless through the first half of the 1970s. What happened?
I had goals early on: to win a Tour event, to win a major, to make the Ryder Cup. I'd done all those things by 1970, and I lost motivation. I went through the motions. I was lollygagging, coasting on my talent.

Mental weakness. Winning a major was this huge thing, with demands on my time -- being in the limelight, flaunting myself at restaurants, doing all these events. Hoopla is not my cup of tea. I'm not Arnold Palmer. Maria always said, "You're not a celebrity." She was right. Fame comes with a lot of B.S.

There's a story about Maria shaking you out of your malaise.
At the 1974 Jacksonville Open, I'm five-over on Friday, and I'm not making the cut. Bob Rosburg finds me and says, "Withdraw and we'll go to Miami." A weekend in Miami sounded good, so I withdraw. I get back to the hotel to pack, and Maria is very upset. She said, "We're not leaving until Sunday. We came here for the week, and we're staying." We stayed and talked and had an incredibly honest weekend that changed everything. She said, "You're 31, young enough to change your career if you don't like golf. But whatever you do, give it 100 percent." That woke me up. It was the same lesson my dad taught me. From that day forward, I took pride in my job. Ever since, I've never not tried on a shot. I may shoot 80, but I'm giving every swing 100 percent. Maria had a unique wisdom. I was blessed to have her in my life. I had two careers: before meeting Maria, and after.

Two years later, in 1976, you won the Masters by eight shots. Was that the best four rounds you've ever played?
Without question. At Augusta that year, I played the par 5s at 14-under. I had all cylinders firing.

In 1990, at age 47, you nearly became the oldest Masters champion, but Nick Faldo beat you in a sudden-death playoff. How much did that eat at you?
Nick didn't win it. I lost it. I don't mean that as a negative against Nick, but I made a series of stupid mental errors. On 17 I had a one-shot lead, and I was pumped. After a great drive I played too conservatively and three-putted for bogey. Bogey? I should have birdied that hole! And on No. 11 [on the second playoff hole], I was in the fairway on a downslope; I hit it exactly like I wanted but didn't account for the slope, which sent my ball left, into the creek. And that was that. 11 [on the second playoff hole], I was in the fairway on a downslope; I hit it exactly like I wanted but didn't account for the slope, which sent my ball left, into the creek. And that was that.

Also, you could have put Faldo away on the first playoff hole. Your 12-footer for birdie to win was tracking perfectly, but you left it short.
You're right. I saw the line, and when I hit it I knew I'd made it -- I'd won the Masters. But there was dew on the green and it was an uphill putt, and I didn't account for those factors. So that's three huge mental errors in four holes. Is that the pressure of a 47-year-old knowing it's his last shot at the Masters? Probably. Pressure is not just nervous swings. It affects your mental outlook. That tournament still hurts, because I always prided myself on mental toughness, and I lost because pressure got the better of me.

You once said, "Pressure affects the greatest players, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad." It seems that the pressure helped when you won the 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.
Yes, 100 percent. I had days when I teed it up and felt nothing, and that's how I played -- like a nothing. I loved those butterflies, that nervous tingle in the gut. Man, that's a good feeling. I never knew what purse I was playing for. Some event was for $50,000? I had no clue. I was playing for the chance to win.

Being in the zone, having the Stare -- what did it feel like?
It was a feeling of lightness, floating. Everything seemed to be in slow motion, yet my mind was sharp. It was there at Augusta [in 1976]. I literally saw 90 percent of the shots play out in my mind before I hit them, just like I envisioned, like running a camera backward and forward.

Today's pros can become multi-millionaires without winning. Can that keep players from becoming great?
In my day, we had to grind for every penny. It's not only what they're making on course, but off. The contracts are astronomical. You need drive and fire to be your best, regardless of money. Guys like Tiger and Phil make tens of millions, but they still want to win majors. But these days some J. O. Jones journeyman is thrilled to be 50th on the money list. It's the person's makeup, his goals. I always wanted to win as often as I could, and the money would take care of itself. Some guys make so much that they're content; winning doesn't matter because they've got a great lifestyle. It takes a unique personality to become a star, a true superstar.

Who are the true superstars of today?
After Tiger and Phil and now McIlroy, are there any true superstars? The bar has been lowered. Guys get voted into the Hall of Fame who don't belong, who lack the numbers. I'm very upset at the Hall of Fame for that. It's not fair to the people who went in early.

Who has been elected to the Hall who doesn't deserve it?
Just look at the inductees over the last six, eight, 10 years. Some years, I don't even vote because the names are not worthy of induction. One major should not get you into the Hall of Fame -- maybe one major and 40 wins. I'm not gonna pick a guy with one major and 11 wins.

Fred Couples has one major and 15 Tour wins, and Colin Montgomerie never won a major, and they'll be enshrined this year. It sounds like they didn't get your vote.
I'll just say that you should have at least two majors. At least! Wow, there are guys in there that it's a joke. It takes integrity away from the term "Hall of Fame." I'm very upset at the Hall of Fame.

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