Raymond Floyd’s Heartbreak: The Golf Magazine Interview
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.
You won Tour events in four different decades, and you were ranked in the top 15 in the world at age 50. What’s your secret to longevity?
My mind. My dad always said that golf is played from the shoulders up. I should add that I accomplished what I did going against Palmer, Miller, Trevino, Watson, Norman and, of course, Nicklaus. Every time I won, I had to beat Jack.
Was Nicklaus the most confident player you faced?
At the ’73 Ryder Cup, Jack was paired with Tom Weiskopf in best-ball. On No. 15, Weiskopf has a 12-foot putt, and Jack has 14 feet. Jack tells Tom to pick it up. Weiskopf says, “Pardon me?” Jack says, “Pick it up — I’m gonna make mine.” And Jack made it. How’s that for confidence?
Speaking of putting, what do you think about the proposed ban on anchoring?
It would not be good for golf. Golf is a game, and games are meant to be enjoyed. I remember when Bush 41 was president. He started playing again when the long putter came out because it helped with his yips. The long putter helped him enjoy the game again.
You had an unconventional stroke that relied on nerve. Don’t long putters take the nerve out of putting?
Why should everyone have to putt the same? Everyone doesn’t have to swing the same. And [the current rule] has been in play for so long. All of a sudden someone who’s been putting like this since he was 6 years old — you’re gonna take it away from him? I’m totally against it, across the board.
You loved to play money matches. Why?
The pressure. Gambling creates pressure and teaches you how to handle it. The success I had in clutch moments [as a pro] was because I knew what it felt like to play for money. I don’t know if being able to handle pressure is learned or God-given, but playing for large sums at an early age was highly beneficial.
Which of your money matches stand out?
In 1966, I’m set to play a match for thousands of dollars. I get to the course [Horizon Hills, in El Paso, Texas]. This young kid meets me in a cart to get my clubs. “Who am I playing?” I ask. “Me,” the kid said. It was a young Lee Trevino. I felt confident. His game didn’t look impressive. He hit it dead low — he couldn’t hit it over the clubhouse with a wedge. But man, he was a shotmaker who could curve it. The first day, he shoots 64 to my 65. I wanted to play another round, but he had to go clean carts! The next day, I shoot 65 and he beats me by one. Then I doubled my bets — I was down $2,000, so I went double or nothing. I made an eagle putt on 18 to beat him, 63 to 64. Then for the first time ever, I used a foreign language. I said “adios” and got out of there.
Speaking of money, is it true that you had investments with Bernie Madoff?
He lived near you in Palm Beach and used his golf memberships to swindle investors. Were you hit hard?
No, because Maria, my dear wife, was very smart. We never had [all our investments] in one basket. She kept us diversified. We didn’t have a significant percentage [of our wealth] with him. It was very minimal.
How well did you know Madoff?
Not at all. We met. He lived seven houses away from me. We didn’t socialize. I’d heard about Bernie Madoff and how much money he was earning [for his clients] yearly. So I asked some dear friends involved in investing. They said, “He knocks all this money out every year, but no one knows how he does it. If you give him money, don’t give him much.” And my son, who’s a Wall Streeter, said, “Nobody knows what he does. Be careful.” So I was.
What was your reaction when his scheme was uncovered?
Look, money is money. It hurts to lose it. It’s like someone stole it. But it was minimal. When I read the stories about people who lost everything — people he swindled and it was their life savings — that just made me sick.
You once said, “I’m able to win because I’m not afraid to lose.” What did you mean by that?
I’ve always felt that one of my greatest strengths was that I didn’t fear losing. You have to accept defeat as a possibility. A lot of good players can’t handle the idea of defeat, of looking bad, of feeling uncomfortable, so they don’t let themselves get in a position to lose. It’s subtle. Guys miss short putts and are secretly relieved. That little voice in their head says, “Hey, better to have a top 10 and cash a check than get embarrassed in a playoff.” I’ve seen great players in the hunt Thursday and Friday, and then you get the Saturday fade. I wanted those opportunities because I knew I would win some of the time. Look at Jack Nicklaus, who won 18 majors and had 19 runner-ups.
Is there a flip side? Can you want to win too much?
Absolutely. I’ve seen the Sunday leader practicing five hours before his tee time. If that’s not your normal habit, then you’re making it harder. When I was leading, and my tee time was 1 p.m., I slept till 10.
What are your memories from your early days on Tour?
I ran around with Ken Still, Miller Barber, Bob Rosburg. It was a different time. We had fun. Today, players finish their round and hit the gym. We hit the bar. That’s what you did, to be one of the guys. I don’t regret it. We had some great times.
If you were in your prime today, would you have a golf entourage — swing coach, mental-game coach, nutritionist?
No! No chance. I needed to be alone. I needed my space. I could have never been comfortable traveling with a lot of people. It wouldn’t have worked. It’s not my personality.
What would a modern swing guru, like Sean Foley, have to say about your armsy, whippy swing?
It’s nothing he would teach. I had a lot going on. I had a classic swing early, but I changed because of my back injury. The way I learned to swing was the only way I could get enough clubhead speed.
Tiger’s now on his fourth swing. What do you think of it?
His swing got a lot better in the last six months [of 2012]. It’s closer to what it was when he was with Butch Harmon. It’s more upright, which I like. What’s holding Tiger back from winning majors is mental. He used to win every time he had a chance. When you’re the best, and you know you’re the best, and your contemporaries know you’re the best, that’s a terrific edge. Now? They know they can beat him. They see his fallacies. His fallacies started with infidelities, and that broke his aura. When Tiger would walk into the locker room, the seas parted; now, when he walks in, no one makes way. He’s off the pedestal. He’s just one of them.
Tiger needs to win five more majors to break Jack’s record. Will he do it?
He’ll win another major or two, but in my mind he’s never going to be the Tiger that he was.
What’s the best 18 holes you ever played?
Either shooting 63 at Southern Hills [at the 1982 PGA] or 66 at Shinnecock [at the ’86 U.S. Open] in windy conditions.
Would you have won at Shinnecock if you hadn’t unraveled the week before, at the Westchester Classic?
Probably not. I had a big lead against a bunch of young players who combined hadn’t won as much as I had. Then I shot 77 on Sunday. That was one long car ride to Shinnecock. Maria asked me what happened. I said, “It was one of those rounds.” She said, “What if it happens this week?” We had a conversation so heated that my kids were crying. She was persistent. Instead of sweeping it under the rug, she made me face up to why I shot 77.
So she made you admit that you choked?
Let’s face it — a guy doesn’t shoot two rounds in the 60s, then almost shoot 80, because of a swing hitch. Your swing doesn’t leave you under pressure. Your mind does. So when I got close on Sunday at Shinnecock, I became very focused. I said, “This is not happening again. I’m 43, this might be my last chance, so let’s do this right.”
At one point that Sunday, 10 players were within one stroke of the lead — big names like Trevino, Crenshaw, Wadkins, Norman and Stewart. No Bob Mays in that group.
I remember walking off the green on 10, looking at the scoreboard and seeing all those names. Maria was there, too. I looked at her, but I didn’t see her. It was the Stare. [Laughs] That focus I had some days. If I could self-induce that look, I would never have lost.
It sounds like along with a loyal wife, you got a brilliant mental-game coach in the deal.
She never played golf, but she had wonderful perception. I might be having trouble curving the ball the way I liked. I’d be irritated on the range, and she’d say, “I don’t see that pause at the top.” And she was right. She knew my game so well.
Are you lonely without her?
The way I deal with it is every day, instead of mourning the loss, I thank the Lord I was blessed to have her for 40 years. [Holds up his hand, revealing his gold wedding band] In my mind, I’m still married. We loved each other. We respected each other. We were friends. I never looked at another woman, and she never looked at another man. I will never take this off.