Everybody except Raymond Floyd played the same old Masters last week amid the glorifying adjectives that once a year flutter in the breezes of Augusta, in the cathedral of pines, at the altar of golf and all that stuff. Floyd surely must have mailed in his scores from Phoenix or the Greater Milwaukee or the Westchester Classic, for they bore no resemblance to what anyone else was doing in the tournament. To put it as bizarrely as it was, Floyd came to the final hole on Sunday needing to make a 12—maybe four drives, four approaches and four putts—to tie Ben Crenshaw, the only guy in the last round who caused enough whoops to make the azaleas sway.
When it was over Floyd had done the following things: shot rounds of 65-66-70-70, which added up to 271, a mere 17 under par, good enough for a share of the Masters record with Jack Nicklaus; broke the first 36- and 54-hole records and finished a brutal eight strokes ahead of his nearest pursuer, Crenshaw; flogged Nicklaus and the rest of the field like step-children; laid waste to the course; burned down the clubhouse; and in the end even removed his visor for an instant and smiled.
Floyd has always had the kind of golf game that seemed suited to Augusta National—a long drive, a high trajectory. But in the past he had been the type of golfer who was as much interested in enjoying life on the tour as winning. In his previous 13 seasons he had won only six tournaments, and even though one of them was a major championship, the 1969 PGA, he remained a phantom individual who would play superbly only once or twice a year. Floyd, in fact, was more noted for his cocktail habits, his friendships with show-business personalities, his eligible bachelorhood, his whirl as a guitar player, his intense interest in the Chicago Cubs and a little wagering trip he once made to El Paso to take on an unknown Mexican—a guy name of Trevino—and the return trip Raymond made in a crate.
But that was the old Ray Floyd, not the mature married gentleman, father of two and rededicated athlete who finally reached his full potential last week. One major championship? That's luck, they say. Two? That's talent. And what about how he did it? Well, let's put it this way: when did Nicklaus ever make three eagles in a major championship and finish 11 strokes behind the winner?
April 19, 1976
A tournament in which a man out-distances the field with such monumental ease tends to get written off as the ultimate in boredom. Yet in a strange sort of way, this Masters was fascinating. For one thing, it was loaded with peculiarities other than Floyd's wondrous shotmaking.
It was blessed with marvelous weather. It saw Tournament Chairman Clifford Roberts take at least one hand off the steering wheel when he named his successor, Mr. Bill Lane, of whom absolutely nothing was known beforehand—and very little after. Rich guy, food products, Texan, pleasant. It was a Masters that saw Nicklaus hit the kind of shots that normally might have won for him—dropping the occasional monster putt, riding the long ball home over the water, even shattering the premises one day, Friday, when he holed out a sand wedge from 100 yards on the 7th hole for an eagle deuce. It was a Masters that produced a sad Arnold Palmer shooting an 81 and missing the cut. A tournament that provided an indifferent Johnny Miller, who came to town and said, "I'm not major championship-oriented," and then proceeded to prove it—at least this time—by finishing in a tie for 23rd. It produced a frustrated Tom Weiskopf, who had finished second four times before and so had thought of nothing else but Augusta all year—and then never got his putter working because the soft, slow greens demoralized and disappointed him from the beginning. "The only way the greens can get fast," Weiskopf said at one point, "is if Mr. Roberts walks out on each one and personally speaks to every blade of grass."
It was a Masters that gave the crowds a schizophrenic Hubie Green who would go from rounds of 71 and 66 to ones of 78 and 77. It would offer up a Gary Player who would be seen constantly rolling up a pants leg to get at a ball in the water, and who would actually fall down in Rae's Creek after slashing at either his golf ball or a Georgia shark. It would produce a Lee Trevino who would play from the start as if he had a plane to catch. And it furnished a splendid backdrop for Ben Crenshaw, whose enormous appeal is increasing with each of his attractive grins and his attacking nature.
But while there was considerably more to this Masters than Raymond Floyd, it was Floyd who kept it from repeating the thrilling finish of last year, when Nicklaus, Weiskopf and Miller battled down to the last turn of the last putt. Floyd started taking the suspense out of this Masters on the very first day when he fired his seven-under 65. The day was warm and windless, and the first indication that the course would be a setup was when Andy North shot an early 66. This was the same Andy North who would ultimately go east and west with an 81, 75 and 76, but the layout was exposed. Nicklaus shot the 67 he always shoots, and 18 other players beat the par of 72.
Floyd's low round featured a plastic surgery job on the Augusta National's par-5 holes. He birdied all four of them, but that was only a start. He would wind up touring those holes in a record 14 under par for the four days by scoring 12 birdies and an eagle 3 on Friday, which was the most dramatic shot of the week.
It came at a time when the tournament was still very much of a contest. People had been out there in the pines making moves at him, people like Nicklaus racking up two eagles in the first seven holes, and Crenshaw getting off to a start of four under through the first three holes on a birdie-eagle-birdie binge, and Green going for a 66 and looking like the Green who had just won three tournaments in a row.
Floyd was already five under for the round when he reached the 15th hole Friday, the day that produced the most yells and excitement. He was confronted with the option of going over the water on his second shot or playing safely, one of the options that stirs up the Masters so often. Floyd ripped into a three-wood, and as he followed the flight of the ball for the full 250 yards the pines began to ring with the familiar voice of his caddie.
"Be there!" he shouted. "Get tight!"
"Go in the hole!" Floyd himself commanded.
"Be a two!" yelled the caddie.
It was a 2½. Officially, a three. The shot was the nearest thing to perfection since Gene Sarazen's historic double eagle on this same hole 41 years before, for it came down out of the cloudless sky, struck the green and began slithering toward the cup. It stopped three feet away. Floyd calmly dropped the putt, as he calmly dropped so many all week, and it was a stunning blow to his challengers. It was the single shot that did the most to give him the second-round 66 and the 36-hole record that, in turn, gave him a five-shot lead on Nicklaus and the rest.
It was then that Floyd began to suspect it was his Masters. He spoke of how his life had changed. "I've traded in my guitar and the Chicago Cubs for golf," he said.
He had also traded in the night life for the family life. Floyd's wife Maria had been a tremendous influence on him, he said. The children and Maria had given him a purpose, and any of his friends could tell you that if Raymond forgot what the purpose was, Maria was around to remind him.
Back in 1973, when they had not been married so long, there was an incident at the Jacksonville Open that Raymond and Maria now laugh about.
"I shot a bad round," Floyd says, "and I withdrew. That's not very professional, but I did it. Then my wife and I sat down and had a long talk. She made me realize you have to work at anything you want to do. It was the turnaround of my career."
After Saturday's round, which might have been among the most forgettable ever, Maria found that she could relax and not follow the play, except on television.
With the scores so low through the first two rounds, the Masters committeemen decided to do what they could to toughen up the layout. And because the greens were not as fast as they sometimes are, the only thing left was to put the flagsticks in Macon and Milledgeville and Atlanta and Savannah. All this did was make the course so difficult that Floyd could manage nothing better than a modest two-under-par 70 and stretch his lead to the eight strokes he eventually would win by.
There was only one moment of torture for him. It came at the difficult par-5 13th (see page 22), where he had a fine opportunity to allow the gang to get a little closer to him. Here he faced a second shot that called for thought and consideration, the ball sitting in a bare lie, about 10 inches above his feet, and the carry requiring about 220 yards, if he chose not to lay up short of the creek. But Floyd had this five-wood he had started carrying a few weeks earlier. Whether it was a wise choice or not, he hit the five-wood, flirting with all the dangers of the 13th hole, and got it over the horrors and into a bunker. And from there he hit a beautiful sand shot to within two feet of the cup for another one of his many birdies on the par-5s.
On Saturday night Floyd said, "I don't think there's anyone here who would bet against me now."
He was certainly right.
Hubert Green said, "I just want to get his autograph."
Tom Weiskopf said, "When you're putting like Raymond, it makes you totally fearless."
Jack Nicklaus said, "Didn't he make a double bogey and gain ground?"
He almost had. On Saturday Floyd suffered a six at the 11th hole, but it came at a time when everybody in the city of Augusta was making a bogey or worse.
And Ben Crenshaw said, "If you throw out Raymond, we're playing a heck of a Masters."
There may have been those among the thousands who assemble every year in Augusta who felt that Sunday's final 18 would be stocked with suspense. There were those who might have thought that Floyd was perfectly capable of shooting a 75, for example, while Nicklaus, who only trailed him by eight shots, after all, would do his usual wonderful 66 and win his sixth Masters by a tingling stroke.
But all of this kind of nonsense was quickly forgotten on the third hole. Nicklaus hit some kind of approach shot that flew the green by half a mile. He took a bogey and he was headed for the same 73 he had posted on Saturday, which eventually led to a tie for third place with Larry Ziegler, who plugged along like the tour veteran he is.
One thing that helped dispel the notion that Floyd would collapse was that he was still playing grand golf. When he faltered with a bogey at the 4th, he slammed back with a birdie at the 5th. And that was the end of the faltering. His tee shots continued to be as accurate as they had been in the previous three rounds, his irons were rapier sharp and his putter had everything crowding the cups or disappearing into them. Floyd's pars became routine, and then he had the audacity to roll in another biggie at the treacherous par-3 12th, the hole where Player toppled over backward into the water on Saturday, a hole fancied as the home of double and triple bogeys. And it was ever so appropriate that Floyd should ram a final birdie into the 15th hole and save his par at the 17th, the two putts that completed the assault on Nicklaus' 72-hole record.
Never during the last round did Floyd ever lead by fewer than seven strokes, and at one point he had put 10 shots between himself and the men who were competing in the other Masters.
For the kind of dazzling glamour and thrills the Masters is accustomed to, Sunday's throngs had to turn their attention to Crenshaw. This fresh-faced, likable young Texan with the big swing, the glorious putting touch and the nature of a gambler had gone around with the honesty and sincerity on his face that Arnold Palmer virtually patented.
And like the young Palmer, Crenshaw went around making swarms of birdies and equal swarms of bogeys. When he eliminates the mistakes, golf may have its next new hero who does not have to lose weight and let his hair grow, as Nicklaus did, or who is not withdrawn like Miller, or funny like Trevino, or angry like Weiskopf or as foreign as Player.
Crenshaw provided the only excitement of the last round, firing the day's low score, a five-under 67, which swept him into second place by three strokes. He did most of it on three straight holes on the back nine, from the 13th through the 15th, as if he had learned from Palmer to save himself for television.
"Sure was fun," Ben said later. "I was just freewheeling it. Raymond was so far ahead I could just let it go."
Crenshaw first let it go with a 250-yard three-wood shot into the 13th green. He took the club back as far as he could take it without having it pull him off the ground, and he brought it around and hit the ball with a mammoth crunch. The ball bored into the wind and plopped onto the edge of the green, no more than 20 feet from the flag. And Ben then did something he does perhaps better than anyone. With his slow backstroke and delicate feel, he rapped the eagle putt home.
On the next hole he did something else he is noted for: he drove wildly into the trees on the right, and he had to work a choked-down two-iron low with a 50-yard fade on it—not the easiest of shots—to come within sparring distance of the 14th green. The ball ran up and onto the green about 12 feet from the cup, and Crenshaw made this one for a birdie.
Well, naturally, there were probably some Crenshaw followers who may have been thinking at this point, "Let's see, another eagle at 15, a hole in one at 16 and two more birdies on 17 and 18...."
Crenshaw smashed what he thought was a perfect three-wood at the pin on the 15th, but it came down just short of what might have got him the eagle. The ball rolled back to the edge of the pond in front of the green, where it was partially submerged. Up went the trouser leg, off went the shoe, into the pond went the foot and splash went the wedge. When he gouged the ball out and assured himself of at least a par on the hole instead of a number that could have been far worse, the roar was as deafening as any during the tournament. So the day belonged to Crenshaw—but the Masters had long since belonged to Raymond Floyd.
Late Sunday evening as Floyd wandered about the clubhouse in his green jacket, flushed with a new dignity, he was wishing he could put part of his past behind him—from an image standpoint, he said.
"I was cocky when I came out on the tour. I guess that's normal for a kid who could hit a long ball. The game was easy for me. I had to play a while to find out how hard it was, and I probably wasted some years having too much fun. It's nice to go back to work at your game and have it pay off like this."
The golf Floyd played through the four rounds left the 1976 Masters with a joke it deserved. It could be said that the venerable Clifford Roberts finally decided to retire from running the Masters, because he knew there would be nothing left of it when Ray Floyd got through.