What goes around, comes around. But if you're Raymond Floyd, who today became the oldest golfer ever to win the U.S. Open, the waiting can be hell.
When Floyd played in his first Open more than half a lifetime ago in 1964, the final 36 holes were played on one day and he was paired with Ken Venturi that steamy Saturday at Congressional Country Club. Floyd started the day tied for the lead, but he was just a 21-year-old kid and faded to 14th place.
What he had was a front-row seat to history as he watched Venturi stagger to victory in humid, 92-degree conditions -- dehydrated, disoriented and with a doctor following his every step.
When Venturi's last putt fell, Floyd didn't want the veteran to have to pull the ball out of the cup for fear he'd faint. So Floyd fetched it and, tears running down his face, handed the little mantel centerpiece to Venturi. Then Venturi cried, too.
Everybody figured Floyd would have plenty of chances to win his own Open. But it never happened. Until today, when he put up the only subpar total of the 86th Open, 1-under-par 279.
Twenty more times after 1964 Floyd played in this event and 20 times he never got into contention near the end. Sixth was his best finish. If the first three days didn't kill him, the front nine on Sunday did. The Ice Man never got into the heat. Next to Sam Snead, no great player ever had such a long, disappointing and inexplicable Open record.
Nobody knew this better than Floyd, who began this day in a five-way tie for fifth place, three strokes behind leader Greg Norman. "I felt last night that truly this was it. I put myself into a position where if I couldn't handle it here . . . I'd probably never get another chance. I just felt that I had to do it. It was probably my last chance. Maybe not, but probably."
With eight holes to play here at Shinnecock Hills, the 43-year-old Floyd was part of a nine-way tie for the lead. After 22 years, the game was afoot.
Three birdies and five pars later, he'd carved a final-round 66 and blown away all opposition, winning by two shots over Lanny Wadkins and Chip Beck and by three over Lee Trevino and Hal Sutton.
And by six over Norman, who bumbled to a 75.
There was no last-minute drama. A 20-foot birdie putt at the 11th got Floyd close. A five-foot birdie at the 13th tied him for the lead. A par-saving five-foot putt at the 14th gave him the lead alone as playing partner and coleader Payne Stewart backed out with back-to-back bogeys.
Finally, at the picture-postcard par-5 No. 16 hole, the one with the Shinnecock clubhouse on the hilltop horizon, Floyd babied in a slippery downhill left-to-right 10-footer for all the insurance he needed. After that birdie, it was just a calm strong stride to the clubhouse by one of the most pressure-proof front-runners in golf history.
On a day when the crowd of 13,500 expected to see a victory by either an old man or a shark, it got both. Not 46-year-old Lee Trevino (71), who faded early and never challenged, or second- and third-round leader Norman, the Great White Shark who played as if Peter Benchley were on his tail. It was Floyd, the pudgy shark of golf gamblers, who ran the table.
At age 43 years 9 months, he is about five months older than was the oldest previous winner, Ted Ray in 1920.
As Floyd stood on the 18th green, gazing at a scoreboard that said he couldn't be caught, what began so long ago -- a jinx that deviled Floyd for two decades -- finally was buried. In April, the whole world embraced Jack Nicklaus when he won the Masters at 46. Floyd's story is not as well known. But, in the subculture of golf, the two historic days will not stand so far apart.
Absolutely nothing in sports is harder than facing a last-chance challenge. All the wait-'til-next-year crutches are gone. You must perform.
Plenty of others couldn't.
Norman, Stewart, Sutton and Bob Tway all held the lead alone by a shot. Trevino, Crenshaw, Wadkins, Beck and Mark McCumber all had a piece of the top at various times. Only Stewart, in gold snakeskin shoes and knickers, had a clean chance after back-to-back birdies at the 11th and 12th holes put him 1 under par. But the altitude got him quick. After four bogeys, he'd sunk too fast to leave a slick.
Sutton, only 28, spoke most eloquently for all of them: "You don't know how many chances like that you're going to get. I hope I have others. But who knows?"
Almost nobody gets the sort of Open chance that Norman squandered. At the turn Friday, he led by five shots. Saturday at the turn, he had four in hand. Both times, he'd reached 3 under par. He ended the tournament tied for 12th (behind Nicklaus, whose 68 copped a share of eighth place) as he played the last 27 holes 8 over par.
"I couldn't get the flame going today," Norman said. "I did everything I could possibly do to fire myself up, but I couldn't light the wick . . . This has happened to me a few times, but never when I was in contention . . . all of a sudden, the party was over . . . I had a good margin both days and didn't really capitalize on it . . . There were no hecklers today. I might have done better if there had been . . . I don't know how much more determined I can get . . .
"I lost it and he won it."
Rumors of death threats against both Norman and Trevino buzzed around the course but were not confirmed. Norman heard them and asked Trevino about it, but finally assumed that the day's double security was standard Sunday practice at the Open. "No excuses," said Norman. "Gotta go get a beer."
Ironically, the two men who finished in second place were the only fellows among the 10 who touched the lead who never really had a chance to win.
Only three bogey-free rounds were played in this tournament and Floyd had two of them, but Beck and Wadkins both tied the course record of 65 set early in the day by also-ran Mark Calcavecchia, but they went out early with no pressure on them and finished long before the end of hostilities. "I've got to sit here and hope the wind blows like hell," said Wadkins. "I may have to drink something stronger than a soda if I have to sit here and watch this the later starters' finishes on TV ."
A little champagne might be in order for a toast to a victory that caps Floyd's distinguished career. He has 20 victories in 24 pro seasons; only 20 others have done that. He's won all the U.S. majors (the 1969 and 1982 PGA and the 1976 Masters were his). A British Open title is his only real remaining goal. Last week at Westchester, he became the fourth golfer to have a $3 million career.
By a nice twist, last week's check goaded him to this win.
"This was tremendously important to me because of what happened last week," Floyd said. "I was tied for the lead after three rounds and I probably had more career wins than everybody else in the top 10 collectively. To go out and not perform, to shoot 77 the last day . . . Well, I played like the rookie.
"It wasn't pleasant for me, but you have to live with it. If I play well under pressure, that's satisfaction in itself. But I hate to blow out. Last week, I completely blew up internally."
On the drive from Westchester to the Hamptons, Floyd's wife Maria put his feet to the fire. Floyd's greatest pride always has been his ability to handle pressure and handle himself. If he ever lost that, he would be washed up. And his wife knew it. Floyd was grumpy. She kept at him.
"I finally gave in and approached it with an open mind. It was a severe, stern talk," he said, sheepishly. "I hate to go back and recount the bad, but sometimes you have to face reality . . . It's very difficult to take something bad and turn it into something positive. But we did it."
On Thursday here, in rain, wind and cold, Floyd didn't quit, as he admits he has more than once under Open conditions. What he has often done at the Open, he already had done a week before. "That 75 in the first round, when I had no touch, hit it everywhere, and chipped and putted to stay alive, was what won the tournament . . .
"Players say that sometimes I get a certain look and they know I'm going to win," said Floyd. "I don't know what that look is, but believe me, if I could induce it, I'd have used it a lot more. But I had it today. I was never fast with a swing, and, believe me, that's unusual. I even walked right -- in rhythm with my swing. I just felt together. Nothing bothered me . . . even the cameramen who zapped me four different times today after I'd started my stroke. Those are things you have to overcome."
For 22 years, Floyd never has been quite able to overcome them.
How could he finally do it at 43?
Floyd shrugged. "It was my last shot."