Floyd Stares Down Field Shinnecock


In June of 1986, Curtis Strange was still a couple of years away from the first of his back-to-back U.S. Open victories. Jack Nicklaus had just thrilled the golfing world by winning the Masters in April at age 46. Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman were locked in a struggle for the world No. 1 designation.
And Shinnecock Hills was about to hold its first U.S. Open since 1896. One hundred years had passed since the tournament, in its infancy, was contested primarily by English and Scottish pros. The United States Golf Association had come to the sleepy little hamlet of Southampton, N.Y. - to the horror of the bluebloods who resided there.
This was the scene as Raymond Floyd came to Shinnecock in 1986. He was already 43 years old. Most observers thought his best golf was already behind him ' and it was. He was still dangerous, but the current crop had seemingly passed him by.
And the Long Island weather in June of 1986 was at its worst at the stat of the week. It would be quite difficult for a 43-year-old to stay loose. The mid-week weather was cold and wet with the area experiencing a noreaster. The winner, it was for certain, would be a golfer who could jab and parry with the course, who could stay patient in the cool climate, and who could accept a final score that would be right around even par.
For a long time, it appeared that player was Greg Norman. The first round he opened with a 71, one off the lead of Bob Tway. Floyd was back in the field with a 75, but his score was bettered or tied by just 46 players. The average score for the round was almost 78. Par at Shinnecock is 70, and no one bettered that in the opening frame.
The weather that opening day? It was in the upper 40s with a 30 m.p.h. wind and a course that had been raked by heavy rains. But the weather was clear the next three days and didnt play nearly as big a part as the first day.
But ' the course still played very difficult. Norman took the lead the second day with a nifty 68. He led by as many as five strokes, but in the third round 47-year-old Lee Trevino came up alongside to grab a share of the lead. And at the end of play on Saturday, Norman had reclaimed the lead with a score of even-par.
The final day, however, a logjam developed which had never been seen at a U.S. Open. Twenty players were within six shots of Norman ' Floyd included. But still no one could foresee Floyd in the winning mix. Norman had already lost his lead by the time he teed off ' Trevino birdied the first hole to hop into a first-place tie. Then Ben Crenshaw reeled off four straight birdies to gain a share of the lead. By 4 p.m., there were no less than nine players tied for the lead. A playoff appeared a dead-lock certainity.
Would it be Norman, or Trevino or Crenshaw? Would it be Tway, Payne Stewart or Mark McCumber? Hal Sutton, Chip Beck or Lanny Wadkins?
The answer ' none of them. Slowly, the vagaries of Shinnecock began to shake out the field. And by the time the field had reached the back nine, sanity prevailed again. The leader was Stewart, who was the first player to get into red figures by making birdie at 11 and 12.
Lurking close behind, though, was a very determined Floyd. Stewart said the Floyd stare got to him. The two were paired together, and as it developed, the eventual leaders would come down to that duo.
Floyd birdied the 13th to gain a tie with Stewart. At the next hole ' 14 - Stewart bogeyed while Floyd made par and took the lead. And Floyd never again was headed from his final destination, which was victory at Shinnecock.
Stewart would make two more bogeys coming home. Floyd, who was now in cruise control, almost holed his 8-iron at the 16th hole, eventually making birdie. He now had a three-shot lead, and he finished it off with a two-shot win over Beck and Wadkins.
Floyd felt his 75 the first round was, surprisingly, the key to the victory.
I played terribly and had no feel, but somehow I survived, he said. Another winning factor ' he played bogey-free golf in the second and fourth rounds.
I had to believe that was my last best chance (for a U.S. Open) ' maybe not, but probably, Floyd said. And he was right. He was at the time the oldest Open champion at 43 years, nine months and 11 days.
Floyd won a Masters and two PGAs in addition to his Open. He also won four majors on the Champions Tour. But Shinnecock remained his only U.S. Open.
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