Ray Floyd was ready to swing. On the second tee during the first round of the Honda-Inverrary Classic, he was about to cock the trigger on a three-wood when an elderly marshal stooping for some water got in the way. Out of the corner of his eye, Floyd suddenly realized his backswing would smack the marshal's backside. He pulled off.
"When I'm concentrating the way I'm supposed to," he had said before the round, "I won't hear a cannon go off. When things are not going well, I'll hear breathing."
Having saved par on the first hole with a splendid pitch, gouging the ball 15 yards from fluffy grass to 15 inches of the cup with both feet in the steepest portion of a sand trap, Floyd's intensity heightened. But this was ridiculous. Hardly your basic one-piece swing: smooth takeaway, chili-dip a marshal.
Peter Oosterhuis politely shooed the codger out of sight, if not out of mind, and Floyd started his waggle again. As if on cue, a frustrated motorist on a nearby road innocently beeped the horn. Since it wasn't a cannon, Floyd continued his swing and bisected the fairway about 230 yards away. He made a birdie 4.
Such is why pro golf is so alluring, and so maddening. Because about 12 dozen men are spread over several acres, the TPA tour is impossible to cover the way serious golfers would like. All we mostly get are numbers, the skeleton without the flesh, the what of each round with almost no how and why.
There is no box score in golf to tell us of a Floyd's daily adventure, not enough interest in his sport from the masses to demand football-like statistics. The only way to get a sense of these craftsmen, the exhilaration and exasperation that can come as quickly as one shot follows another, is to tag along for a round.
At a respectful distance.
Fireballing right-hander Ray Floyd had a chance to sign the sort of early-'60s bonus contract that would have guaranteed him a spot on the Cleveland Indians' major-league roster in two years, at 19. But he opted for golf, spent a semester at the University of North Carolina and a tour of Army duty that included the Cuban crisis but not Vietnam. In the baseball analogies he often affects, Floyd's going from junior golf to the pro tour is like jumping from Class D to the majors. And hitting .350.
He did that, joined the tour in 1963 and won a tournament as a rookie. Jack Nicklaus began a year earlier, Tom Weiskopf a year later. "Tom and I have mentioned that there's almost nobody left from his 'class' and mine still out here and doing well. Or who started with Jack.
"We've outlived 'em."
On holes one through six, the first third of his round, the first 12th of his tournament, Floyd showed why. He kept pushing the ball right; couldn't stop it. Missed half the greens in regulation. He could have, probably should have, bogeyed the first, fourth, fifth and sixth holes. Instead of being four over, he was one under after that second-hole bird, with an up-and-down ratio only pilots better.
From a clump of trees off the fourth fairway, his modest gallery assumed they had joined Floyd in golfing jail. He had the escape key, about a 120-yard draw that bore under one tree, over another and came within 20 feet of the hole. His driver and long irons were his trouble clubs; his wedge and putter bailed him out.
"You quit out here," he said, "you're looking for something else to do. To be successful, you must have something other than a golf game. There are too many people out here who have golf games but who have achieved only moderate success. Or shown brilliance only a short while. You named one; I can name 'em from now on. You can go on the practice tee, put me among 30 kids out there and not know me from them.
"So what sets them apart from a Nicklaus or a Trevino?"
Or a Floyd?
"I can't put my finger on it. But there's more than the physical golf game itself. How you react under pressure, manage a course, know what you can and can't hit, which shots you try under pressure and which you don't. Last week (his collapse in the final round of a tournament he had a fine chance to win) was very rare for me.
"To be honest, I don't know if I learned anything right off (during his first pro years). I just had raw talent. I just put raw talent on the mound. Here I was, Nolan Ryan with a fast ball. Let it rip. If they hit it, they hit it. If they don't, I win.
"That was my attitude. Fortunately, I had the raw talent to last until I finally learned to play golf."
On the seventh hole, Floyd made a midcourse correction on his swing. After a wonderful drive and approach, he told his caddie: "I got it." And for most of the next 10 holes, or until his ball started flying toward a bar from the 18th fairwary, Floyd was close to flawless from tee to green.
But couldn't buy a putt.
He missed a 15-footer at seven, an eight-footer at eight, an 11-footer at nine and three putts from inside 10 feet the next three holes. As Floyd stood on the 13th tee, I wrote: "No luck yet . . . hasn't made one long putt."
That hole, Floyd missed the fairway and missed the green. He made birdie, popping in a wedge from 25 feet. That got him started on a binge. Having kept his nerves early, when he could have lost the tournament, he took dead aim on the leaders.
He birdied 14 and eagled 15 to go six under. He is almost all business on the course, with very little chit-chat even with his playing partners. On the 15th fairway, he laughed and put his arm around his caddy.
"I almost never take a practice swing," he said. "I feel like you get tired enough out there. I see guys taking two and three practice swings before each shot. At the end of the day, they've had, maybe, 190 swings; I've had maybe 70 . . . You said I hadn't any luck before 13. That wasn't right. I had an opening at four. When you hit it in the trees, just to have anything at all is pretty lucky.
"I've hit shots that landed in people's pockets and their laps. I was leading the Bob Hope once when a ball got grabbed by a palm frond, like it was a catcher's mitt. In a junior tournament once, match play, my opponent hit out of bounds but the ball kept rolling along the street. A dump truck came along, pinched the ball, squeezed it back into the middle of the fairway. He won the hole, beat me, 1 up.
"I can still remember the guy's name."
Soaring through 15 holes, Floyd slept at 16. Missed a two-footer for par. From "gimme" range, Floyd was one of us. He recovered for par at 17 but was short enough off the 18th to need a fade to hit the green. It faded too soon, and so did Floyd.
The scene was like the first day of deer season--nothing in sight but one or two ricochet sounds. Luckily, a fence stopped the ball from going into a pool area with a thatched-roof bar, and Floyd scrapped it close enough for bogey. Angry, he ordered a diet drink and a bucket of practice balls and consumed each in a hurry.
Then he was calm, seemingly relaxed before the drive back to a Miami Beach home close to palatial.
"My major goal in life," he said, "is to be a good husband and father."
The early '70s, before his marriage in the winter of 1973, were the worst of his career, Floyd's pretty-boy phase. He admits: "I went through a period when, realistically, I didn't like to play golf. So I came out here and played only when I got broke. When I was out of money, I'd come back and practice, go out and make some money and then enjoy life some other way. Starting so early (he was a scratch player before 13), I lost the flame, the desire to play, in the middle of my career.
"Again, I was lucky enough to have that raw ability. I hadn't burned out, but in '69 I set some goals: I wanted to reach the $100,000 plateau, which at that time was big; I wanted to win a major tournament and I wanted to make the Ryder Cup team. I achieved them all. And after that I got lost for a little while."
Six months shy of 40, Floyd's back is bothersome at times. Lately, there have been allergy-related problems in his left hand. The memory of Jim Lonborg keeps him from skiing.
"You have to remember that you play one through 72," he said, perhaps thinking of his life as well this tournament. "If you get hung up on nine, Thursdays or Fridays, or the 14th hole, you're lost already. The great thing about 75 or 73 is that there's a birdie out there about as close as your next shot. And I know that my best will lap the field. There's some players who have to play their very best to hope to win."