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Original Issue

A Rookie Once Again

In the midst of one of his best years ever, 50-year-old Ray Floyd made his debut on the Senior tour

Raymond Floyd knew he was in the right place when someone called him Junior. That's what they used to call him back in the early days when, as a 20-year-old rookie on the PGA Tour, he was too young to go into the casinos when the Tour played Las Vegas. Now here he was, less than a week past his 50th birthday, and doggone if they weren't calling him Junior again as he made his Senior tour debut. "I haven't heard that in a long time," said Floyd, grinning. "It feels just like it's 1963."

There was a slight difference, of course. Although Floyd last week was indeed the greenest of rookies once again, he was also a genuine star from the moment he arrived in Lexington, Ky., for the $500,000 Bank One Senior Classic at the Kearney Hill Links. The reason for all the hoopla was that nobody, including Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino, had ever joined the 13-year-old Senior tour while still a major force in the game.

The most intriguing question about Floyd wasn't so much if he could become the fifth player to win a Senior event in his first attempt—had Floyd been a race horse at nearby Keeneland, he would have reached the starting gate as the odds-on favorite—but when in 1992 he would become the first player to win both a regular Tour event and a Senior event in the same year. In March, Floyd won the Doral Ryder Open in Miami only a couple of weeks after his nearby house had been destroyed by fire. Five weeks later he was in the hunt for his fifth major at the Masters, only to wind up second to Fred Couples, whom Floyd has been a friend and adviser to since the two "offers competed for the U.S. in the 1989 Ryder Cup. All told, Floyd arrived in Lexington ranked ninth in prize-money earnings ($665,918 in only 14 Tour events), so it didn't seem quite fair that he was also eligible to compete against golf's geezers.

Floyd did his best to downplay the talk that he could just about name his margin of victory at Kearney Hill—a two-year-old public course carved out of Bluegrass horse country—but it wasn't easy, not even in the face of one of the strongest fields the Senior tour has produced this year. The top 10 money-winners among the Seniors, and 41 of the top 50, came to Lexington either to welcome Junior or to put pressure on him, take your pick.

Why, even Arnold Palmer, who last Thursday celebrated his 63rd birthday, made his first appearance in the event since 1985. Back in the days when Floyd was called Junior, Palmer took him under his wing, much as Floyd would later do with Couples. One thing Palmer impressed on the young Floyd—a self-confessed playboy before he married Maria Fraietta in 1973—was to never let a good time interfere with his golf. "I was on his case a few times about what he was doing, both on and off the golf course," Palmer said. "We spent some good time together in nightclubs. But he planned out his life and his career, and he's followed it very well. He's very profound and very studious about his approach to life and to the game."

Now he's one of the game's darlings. Average attendance for the three-day tournament was estimated at 25,000, more than twice what the event has traditionally drawn, and Raymond-Turns-50 stories appeared in almost every major publication in the country.

Floyd showed up in Lexington last Tuesday and indulged in a sort of reunion with old friends. Almost radiant, Floyd looked and acted as if he were a kid again, which, in a way, he was. It was a tribute to Floyd that his old/new rivals seemed delighted to see him, even though Junior figured to be taking a lot of money out of their pockets in the next few years. Said Trevino, the Senior tour's earnings leader, "We received him with open arms. Why not? He can only take one paycheck. He's not going to take the whole purse."

In March, when Floyd played in the Fuji Electric Seniors Grand Slam in Japan (an unofficial tour event that allows a player to compete if he turns 50 during the calendar year), he won by seven shots. But in Lexington he found not only a super-tough field that was missing only Nicklaus and Gary Player among the Senior stars, but also a 6,768-yard course with undulating greens that Floyd found tough to read, and weather conditions—unseasonably cool temperatures and stiff breezes—that made the going surprisingly difficult. All of which contributed to a one-under 71 debut round on Friday, a round that Floyd characterized as "flat" and "indifferent." Afterward, he said, "I didn't feel any different than I do when I play any other round of golf, but it could have been the hoopla. Maybe I needed to get all that out of the way."

For one day, at least, it seemed as if he may have been right. On Saturday, Floyd shot a lovely 67, with five birdies and no bogies, to pull himself into contention. But he ballooned to another 71 on Sunday and finished sixth, six behind Terry (Pickle) Dill. "I had fun today," Floyd had said on Saturday. "It's been a long time since I've played golf with some of these guys. It's neat. When you look up at the leader board and see some of those names, it's like going back in time."

As for 1993, Floyd says he will play all four majors on both tours. Beyond that, he'll bounce back and forth between the regular and Senior tours, competing in another 10 or 12 tournaments. The idea of having a sort of dual identity—Junior to the Seniors; Mr. Floyd to the Juniors—seems to delight him. He senses there are new territories that nobody has explored. Not even Nicklaus. "If I play my best," Floyd said, "I can win anywhere in the world against anybody."



Palmer, who once warned a young Floyd to cool his playboy ways, was on hand to welcome his protègè.