Every year at the Doral Open, Raymond Floyd threw a huge party for his acquaintances on the PGA Tour. Not the players. Everybody else. You might call them "the little people," although Floyd never would.
Maybe some other athlete has done this -- picked up the tab for a backyard bash for everybody in his traveling circus of a subculture. Maybe not.
But Floyd did. He's the kind of millionaire who writes his own thank-you notes and meets every guest at the door with a first-name backslap. Floyd handled fame and wealth graciously and generously. Not many people can welcome folks to a 12,000-square-foot mansion on Biscayne Bay in North Miami Beach with a two-story stone fireplace and make it seem like a real home, no big deal, and everybody's welcome. Don't worry about spilling the red wine on the rug.
Raymond has always had a touch with people and, Lord, was he proud of that house. Not just the size and beauty of it, but the personality -- all the little touches and the stories behind them -- that he and Maria had injected into every corner during 18 years of marriage.
Maybe that's why the little world of golf was so shaken three weeks ago when it learned that Floyd's home burned to the ground in the middle of the night.
Maria called Raymond at 1:08 a.m. in San Diego -- he says he'll never forget the time on his hotel clock -- to tell him it was all gone. He flew cross-country so numb that he says he couldn't believe what had happened until he actually saw it.
"It was the worst thing that ever happened to my family. My wife and I . . . everything that meant so much, all our personal possessions, we lost it all."
If golf empathized with Floyd in February, it is rejoicing with him in March, walking on air because Floyd -- 49 years old and without a victory in six years -- came home to Miami, sorted through the rubble, cried his tears, picked a new architect and teed it up in the Doral Open like business as usual.
Then he won the damn thing wire-to-wire, holding off the reigning PGA player of the year, Fred Couples, over the closing holes Sunday.
Winning a golf tournament doesn't make up for your house burning down. Psychologists say that, short of a loved one dying, losing your home may be the most traumatic event that can hit you. Being rich doesn't change it.
"Sometimes I need adversity before winning," Floyd said after his triumph, "but I sure as hell don't need another fire."
That's Floyd -- the only guy in the house who can find both the right perspective and the punch line too.
It's tempting, for a day, to say there are two kinds of people: the ones who spit on their hands and get back up and the ones who don't. Floyd's example makes us all feel like we may have greater crisis reserves than we suspect.
But Floyd has spent the last several years inspiring us with his ability to get up off the deck.
Just when "everybody" assumed he was too old ever to win the U.S. Open, in 1986 at age 44 he became (at that time) the oldest champion ever.
Then, at the Masters in 1990, Floyd suffered one of the harshest defeats any great golfer has endured, after leading by four shots with six holes to play. That he would have been the oldest Masters champion ever -- that nobody on earth had picked him to win at 47 -- consoled him not an iota.
"I've won and I've lost, but I have never felt like this -- ever," he said at the time. "Nothing has ever affected me like this. . . . I didn't think I could lose."
Next, Floyd was named the 1990 Ryder Cup captain and watched the U.S. team lose, with a series of 18th-hole collapses. His decisions were second-guessed.
Would those be his final chapters? Hooks a 7-iron shot into Rae's Creek to lose the Masters, then presides over America's golf decline?
Last September, in a controversial choice, Floyd was named to the Ryder Cup team -- as a player -- by captain Dave Stockton as his only free selection. Not Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson or Curtis Strange, but old Tempo Raymondo.
The first day, Floyd and his protege -- Couples -- set the tone of the whole Ryder Cup as they beat Bernhard Langer and Mark James in the morning and stared down Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam (ranked No. 1 and 2 in the world) in the afternoon. "The chemistry between us is a marvelous thing," Floyd cooed of Couples. Old heads were shaken. If you can transplant a competitive soul from an aging player to one in his prime, Floyd seemed to have done it for Couples. "Ray's not going to let you lose," said Couples.
If Couples couldn't bring himself to catch Floyd last Sunday, losing by two shots after missing 10-foot birdie putts on the 16th and 17th holes, then bogeying the 18th after a wild drive, perhaps he -- or his subconscious -- can be forgiven.
The concentration of great athletes is, in many ways, more exceptional than their physical gifts. Who can explain the way a Magic Johnson rises in the NBA All-Star Game or Floyd, years past his prime, can start Doral with 67-67-67. Why not just give him a machine gun, call him Pretty Boy Floyd, and let him write those scores on the clubhouse wall like a challenge to the field?
As his regular Tour career comes to an end, Floyd may finally be getting his full due as one of the best ever. He is the only player in the world under 50 who has won all the American majors -- the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA (twice). "I can't wait for the Senior Tour," he says.
Floyd couldn't be reached for comment yesterday -- you'd be surprised how hard it is to get his "home phone number" these days -- but he's covered many topics in the last two weeks in many interviews. No matter the subject, he never seems to ring false. Told he had joined Sam Snead as a four-decade Tour winner, Floyd said, "I'm not near the player he was." Asked if this made up for the '90 Masters, he said, "No. . . . nothing will ever take away losing that golf tournament." Complimented on his post-fire grit, he deflected credit, saying, "My wife Maria has been so strong. She's told me to go ahead and play and she'll handle everything."
Maybe other sports would be lucky if their athletes could stick around long enough to become full-grown adults as so many of golf's top players seem to do. As Floyd said of his victory: "Believe me, I'm not a dweller. Nothing that I've done in the past meant anything at that moment. . . . If you think you are old and washed up, I guess you are. Maybe that's why I can still win. It's today."
Such people usually find a way to cope with tomorrow.