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Original Issue

He Beat The Heat By Catching Fire

Raymond Floyd got comfortable with a record opening-round 63 and kept his cool to win the PGA at sultry Southern Hills

It could be written on a wall somewhere: Raymond Floyd says happiness is a double bogey on the last hole to win a major golf tournament by three strokes. That was how the 64th annual PGA Championship ended last Sunday in an August blast furnace known as Tulsa. By then, all that mattered was that Floyd was taking a little more time to get it over with, which meant a few more sweat stains on everybody's clothing. Floyd had actually started ending the tournament on the day it began in 100° heat by fashioning a magnificent 63 on the proud terrain of Southern Hills Country Club, and this brought forth an old saying from the tour locker rooms: When Fat Raymond starts to strut, you can forget it, baby.

Raymond was in one of those grooves of his at Southern Hills in the last of the year's Big Four events. When such a thing happens, it's terribly difficult for anyone to catch him on a golf course for two reasons: 1) he's an experienced and talented player; and 2) he's a fierce competitor who has been doubly toughened up by years of big-money gambling. Fat Raymond, who isn't so fat anymore incidentally, knows how to play golf for his own money—and yours. It's well known that he likes a sporting game in practice.

So it was that Floyd followed up his seven-under 63 on Thursday with a one-under 69 on Friday and then a two-under 68 on Saturday, and never did he look more like himself than on Sunday afternoon over most of the back nine after it fleetingly appeared that somebody else—a Greg Norman, a Fred Couples, a Calvin Peete, a Lanny Wadkins, the eventual runner-up—had even a remote chance to overtake him.

Floyd is always aggressive with every club in his bag, and this was when he calmly proceeded to birdie the 12th, 15th and 16th holes to rub out any notion that he was going to let the championship slip away from him.

That he finished weakly was only a mild embarrassment. All the double-bogey 6 cost him was the tournament's 72-hole scoring record. His closing 72 brought him in at 272, one more stroke than Bobby Nichols had taken at the Columbus (Ohio) Country Club back in 1964. Floyd deserved the record, one had to believe, for he devoured Southern Hills, a course with a reputation for brutality, a narrow old place with rolls to it and evil water beds here and there.

It's true that Floyd and others in the 150-player field caught Southern Hills on a boiling week when the greens were soft enough to hold even the most indifferent iron shot. At frequent intervals the greens had to be watered down, practically to mush, to keep the bent grass from totally disappearing, which it almost did anyhow. Iron shots kept striking the putting surfaces and going splat. Southern Hills had the smoothest mud anybody had ever putted on. And for the last round the greens were softer still because of an overnight rainstorm, or, as they call it in the Southwest, a "duck-drownin' stump-floater."

O.K., so the dart-throwing, arrow-shooting brand of golf that would be required was going to damage Southern Hills' reputation and take the winner far below par of 280. Somebody had to win, and Floyd knew it had to be him after Thursday's 63, which was merely, by his own description, "the greatest single round I've ever played." He hit only one halfway poor shot that day, and missed several putts within makable range. The round could have produced a number even lower than the 63; Floyd's scorecard showed nine consecutive threes from the 6th through the 14th holes.

After the round, Raymond said to a friend, "My game is in the best shape it's been all year. I'm in control. I know what I can do and what I can't do here. I played well at the British Open, but nobody knows it because I never made a putt. I've had some rest. Somebody is going to have to play very well to beat me now."

As stunning as it was, the 63 lost a bit of its luster before Thursday ended, for it slowly became clear that Southern Hills' soft greens had disarmed the course. Bob Gilder and Norman each shot a 66, and then 67s went on the board from people like Nick Faldo, Rex Caldwell and Couples, who only birdied the last six holes on the course to do it.

There would be more low rounds the next three days, further deflating the ego of Southern Hills' members, but none of them was posted by Tom Watson or Jack Nicklaus, the two players on whom most of the pre-championship attention was naturally focused. Watson did close with a creditable 68 Sunday and wound up in a tie for ninth, but he was never a factor in Tulsa, where he was expected to make a serious bid to become the first golfer since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three majors in one year, having taken the U.S. and British Opens earlier.

Like Watson, Nicklaus played a decent last round, shooting a 67, but this PGA found him in a tie for 16th when it was over. Even an easier Southern Hills remained a mystery to Jack. He wasn't a contender in Tulsa in 1970, when Dave Stockton won the PGA there, or in the 1977 U.S. Open, on the same course, which Hubert Green won.

"I'm not sure I could play well at Southern Hills if it were air-conditioned," said Nicklaus. "I never have." This was largely because he never has driven accurately on the premises.

Driving well was one of the keys to Floyd's victory. Always being in a position to sling something at the pushover greens had given him his three-stroke lead after the first 18, a two-stroke lead over Gilder after 36 and a five-stroke lead over Jay Haas and Norman after 54, with each of Floyd's totals representing a record in PGA Championship scoring.

And it was only after he let a couple of drives slip off line on Sunday that the contest tightened up. Floyd bogeyed the 9th and 10th holes because his tee shots put him in places where he required guides to lead him to the greens. Experience got him bogeys instead of something worse in those circumstances, however, and his lead never shrank to fewer than two strokes.

"That was the only pressure I felt," he said later. "Here I am, a veteran player with a five-shot lead, and I would think from time to time what the headline would look like if I blew it. That's why I'm proud of how I played on the back nine."

How Floyd played was three under par from the 11th through the 17th. He went for the par-five 16th in two, risking calamity, but came out of the rough and sank a long putt for his birdie. He even missed a short birdie putt on the 17th.

But then came the final hole, a 434-yard par-four that doglegs sharply to the right through a tunnel of trees and requires a long-to-medium iron up the hill to the sprawling clubhouse. Floyd hit a perfect drive. He was confronted with a routine three-iron for his par four, and a tournament record, he claims, didn't enter his mind.

In fact, nothing entered his mind from that point on.

"I don't remember standing over the three-iron," he said. "I lost all concentration." The rather sickly approach shot left him with a wicked lie behind a front bunker, and he gouged this shot into the sand. There was no real drama to this because Floyd isn't a golfer who might have spent 30 more minutes and three or four more blows in the sand. He exploded out and two-putted for his six—and his $65,000.

The victory did something else for Raymond. It gave him his third major title, since he'd previously won the 1969 PGA in Dayton and the 1976 Masters. The '69 PGA Championship came in the middle of Floyd's first career, when he was known as a swinging, high-stakes-gambling bachelor whose reputation with the ladies was widespread and well deserved. At one point he even tried his hand at playing guitar in nightclubs, but his strumming was never as good as his putting. Floyd set out on his second career about 10 years ago, when he met his wife, Maria. Now, at 39, he's a family man, with three children and a sumptuous home in Miami, who likes to work on his golf game. And his talent and confidence have never been greater.

Three majors put Floyd in another, more socially acceptable group in the sport. Of your active major championship collectors, only Jack Nicklaus (19), Gary Player (9), Tom Watson (7) and Lee Trevino (5) are several history pages ahead of everyone else, if you define everyone else as those with only two. All those Johnny Millers, Jerry Pates, Craig Stadlers, Lanny Wadkinses, Severiano Ballesteroses, etc. Floyd was in that category until last week, but Fat Raymond struts with three majors now.


The all-important towel wipe was Floyd's best stroke.


Even at Fahrenheit 100 Floyd displayed his finest form.