by Jeff Skinner
In the scheme of it all fifty years can seem like a blink of an eye while at the same time it could feel like a lifetime. Fifty years ago Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech. Fifty years ago the Beatles released “She Loves You” and the first James Bond film, “Dr. No” hit the theaters. And on that fateful day in November President Kennedy was assassinated.
The Vietnam War raged on as did the fight for civil rights in America. They were heady days and growing up in that generation wasn’t easy at times.
Raymond Floyd made his PGA Tour debut in 1963 and promptly earned Rookie of the Year honors with a victory in his first season. Floyd would go on to a Hall of Fame career with four major championships, 22 PGA Tour wins and an indelible legacy that personified a gambling risk taker with nerves of steel.
The March issue of Golf Magazine (find it on the newsstand right next to Kate Upton) features Floyd in The Golf Magazine Interview with Connell Barrett entitled “Raymond Floyd’s Heartbreak.” Barrett does an excellent job in getting Floyd to open up on many subjects. The most telling of which is that despite Floyd’s reputation for being tough and hard as nails, he really is an emotional man that grieves for the loss of his dear Maria.
If you’re looking for the “Politically Correct” answers and reserved opinions don’t bother. Much like he did in his heyday Floyd goes for it. He calls them as he sees them no matter what the subject is.
Floyd likes to say he had two careers, the one before he met his wife and the one after. His record proves him correct: “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.”
Asked if he could go back and do something differently he said,” I wish I could go back and meet Maria earlier. She meant so much. I could have accomplished a lot more.”
He says it was his wife that was responsible for making him more of a professional golfer. His first years on tour were spent being a professional partier. “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.”
As far as Tiger Woods he says, “He’s off the pedestal. He’s just one of them (golfers).” And that Jack’s record may be safe. “He’ll win another major or two but in my mind he’s never going to be the Tiger that he was.”
He wouldn’t ban the long putter, or the stroke, “I’m totally against it (the ban), across the board.” He loved his money matches on the course except when a young Lee Trevino was in the picture and felt he won because he wasn’t afraid of losing. “I’ve always felt that one of my greatest strengths was that I didn’t fear losing. You have to accept losing as a possibility.”
He won in four different decades and was ranked in the top 15 golfers in the world at 50. He says his mind, his focus was his secret to longevity . “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.”
Floyd cherishes is place in the history of the game and feels that recent additions to the Hall of Fame have cheapened that accomplishment. “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. 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.”
At the 1990 Masters at age 47 he barely missed out on becoming the oldest Masters Champion when Nick Faldo won in a playoff. “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.”
It was here that one of the most mentally tough professionals said the pressure got to him, “Pressure is not just nervous swing. It affects your mental outlook. That tournament still hurts because I always prided myself on mental toughness, and I lost because the pressure got the better of me.”
As Floyd said the times were different. In his day you played hard and partied harder. Even after his beloved Maria calmed him down, the two of them were still known for throwing the most amazing parties at their home.
Long before Tiger had “the stare” it was Floyd’s. The shooting the ball into the hole move? Pure Floyd. Who walked their putts into the hole? Raymond Floyd.
When you’re 70, fifty years may have seemed to pass in an instant. For Floyd it will last forever.