Low-profile shotmaker Raymond Floyd puts sheen on career with US Open win

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Bring on the British Open! Once he had allowed himself to savor his first victory in the US Open, Raymond Floyd began looking forward to its British counterpart in July at Turnberry, Scotland.

``Winning the British would complete the cycle of the major championships,'' said Floyd, who has now won the Masters, US Open, and PGA championship (twice). Only Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, and Gene Sarazen have won all four.

Winning here Sunday at Shinnecock Hills, a classic turn-of-the-century course that held up magnificently against a modern onslaught, gave Floyd's long career that distinguished topping it deserved.

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He has been on the tour so long (23 years) and has spaced out his important triumphs so well (a major title in each of three) that he is too easily taken for granted. Overall he has captured 20 pro tournaments.

His peers know him as a consummate professional who plays best on the most challenging courses. Shinnecock Hills is a shotmaker's test, and a brilliant shotmaker won. Floyd's iron shots consistently frightened the hole.

Floyd, who prevailed by two strokes with a one-under-par total of 279, was the only man to shoot par or better for the full 72 holes. All four days were windy, and the first was truly miserable with the further travails of blinding rain and numbing cold.

``I won the tournament on Thursday,'' Floyd reflected. ``I shot 75 and the effective par had to be at least that. I thought somebody might shoot a 100, the weather was so awful. You had to wear extra sweaters and rain gear, which made it impossible to swing well. There was no way to play with any feel. That was just survival. The last three days were golf.''

The last three days the husky Floyd shot 68, 70, and 66. The fourth day he fired four birdies and no bogeys to overtake third-round leader Greg Norman and outlast one of the most bunched fields in Open history. At nearly 44 years of age he became the oldest winner ever, and he admits he took heart from 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus's win in the Masters.

At one point midway through the warm, breezy afternoon, eight players were tied for the lead, as nearly as anyone could tell. The scoreboards were pressed to keep up with the fast-changing chase.

``To win that kind of tournament the way I won it is a great experience,'' Floyd said, his face brimming with emotion. ``The Open has been a goal of mine since I was a child growing up in North Carolina, where my Dad taught golf. I'd played in 20 previous Opens, but my record was poor, for no reason I can think of.''

Floyd's best Open finish before 1986 was sixth, clear back in 1965.

A poor last round at the Westchester Classic the week before this week's Open actually helped. Floyd was tied for the Westchester lead after three rounds, then shot a horrible 77 the final day.

``I've always prided myself on being able to handle pressure and control myself emotionally when I have a chance to win,'' he said here. ``I've been known as a front-runner, which means you can play under pressure. To perform as poorly as I did at Westchester caused me to have some stern conversations with myself. It's a challenge in life to turn a negative experience into a postive one, and that's what I was able to do in the Open.''

Floyd took the lead for good with four holes remaining Sunday, but his playing partner, Payne Stewart, the one in the knickers, considered Floyd's par at the 12th hole a key. Floyd sank a 20-foot putt there to stay in contention.

A birdie at the long 16th hole put him two strokes ahead of Lanny Wadkins, who shot a course record 65 and finished early, and Chip Beck. That's the way things stayed, with Wadkins and Beck sharing runner-up honors at 281.

Hal Sutton and Lee Trevino were another stroke back, followed closely by Ben Crenshaw and Stewart. Hard behind them came lanky Bob Tway, Mark McCumber, Nicklaus, and Bernhard Langer, and after them at 285 were Norman, who fell back from the lead via a final-round 75, and Denis Watson. The poor finish was particularly disappointing for Norman, who has now been close in several majors without winning.

Tway, says Trevino, is the game's next superstar. His strong showing in his first Open had been preceded at Westchester by his second victory of the year.

There had been great concern about traffic jams at the relatively remote Long Island venue. Those fears were unfounded. The only traffic jam was on the leader board Sunday, and an assured Raymond Floyd unsnarled it magnificently. A major player won a major, major championship.

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