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Q&A: Floyd on Masters win, Ryder Cup changes

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In 1976, Raymond Floyd won his first and only green jacket by a whopping eight strokes. He tied Jack Nicklaus' record of 17 under par, which was eventually broken by Tiger Woods in 1997 and Jordan Spieth last year. Forty years after his Masters win, Floyd talks about his magical week, the secret weapon that helped him conquer Augusta, the future of the PGA Tour Champions and why the Ryder Cup holds a special place in his heart.

How did you feel going into that week?
I had been playing really well in the spring, coming to Florida. And was really playing well tee to green, but was having difficulty scoring. I wasn’t making putts and getting the ball up-and-down. I played Greensboro the week before Augusta, and the last round I had a 66 in not the best of weather, and I finally started making some putts. On the drive to Augusta, I had an epiphany, if you will. I just felt so confident, went full of confidence driving the whole way thinking about it, thinking of winning the Masters. Thinking this was my week that everything had fallen into place perfectly. Just went in there brimming with confidence.

So after shooting 65 in the first round did you feel like it was going to be your week?
As I said, I felt it before. I was … so full of confidence. The 65 just added fuel to that feeling. Now I go out and shoot 65 and now I’m brimming with confidence.

What was it like to sleep on the lead every night?
I never had trouble sleeping on the lead. I always felt like … I always wanted [the lead]. If I had a one-shot lead it took another person two to beat me. So I was comfortable with the lead my whole life and still am a good sleeper, so it didn’t bother me.

When you won there you still had to use a local caddie. Do you think some guys today would benefit from using an Augusta caddie?
No. No, the Tour caddies are much more sophisticated and better. However, there were caddies that caddied at Augusta National … there was probably six to 10 caddies from Augusta that were Tour caddies. So you had some really good caddies there, and you had some really good caddies that caddied for the members and knew the course and the greens. But they didn’t have 80 good caddies or 90. You were kind of luck of the draw if you got a good caddie at Augusta.

I couldn’t believe you were one of the first players to put a 5-wood in the bag.
I was the very first person. In the fall, I started thinking about Augusta National. I had the length to reach the par 5s, but in that era we used 1- and 2-irons, and the ball would be hot on the trajectory and it would hit … and the greens were harder then, this was pre bent grass, and the greens were much firmer, and the trouble was over the greens. Literally, you’d have a 1- or 2-iron into these greens and it would bounce. It’s like the 15th hole – there were more balls in the back lake than the front.

I kept thinking about the Masters. I can win this tournament. It suits me. It’s a long golf course. You have to drive it long. So I started thinking about it. If I have something to go into those par 5s and I can keep it on the green, it’d be a huge advantage.

Women had 5-woods in their bags, but there was no such thing in a man’s bag. A 4-wood was it. I started thinking about making some 5-woods up. Something I could carry about 200-210 [yards], something in that range. I got some 5-wood heads from a club manufacturer out of Memphis, named Bert Dargie. I called him and he had a handful of 5-wood heads. I had him send them to me, I lived in Miami Beach at the time, and I took them up to my guy that did all my repair and club work up in Hollywood, Fla., … Of course all those heads in that era were laminated. I was there when he grounded and set up my faces and we painted them and shaft them and got five, there might have been six [5-woods], and I started practicing with them that winter.

I broke a couple of them immediately in practice because the hosels were thin, it was a smaller head. They were women’s clubs. They didn’t take the force. Finally I got one that I liked a lot. I didn’t use it because I was breaking them at such a rate, but I would hit balls with it occasionally and then I never did use it in a tournament. I took it to Augusta and that was my first week [using it]. I think I was 14 under on the par 5s, which won me the tournament.

You think that’s still the key to winning the Masters? Taking advantage of the par 5s?
Oh, without a doubt. If you can play the other holes even, you can win the golf tournament if you play the par 5s under.

What impressed you most about watching Jordan Spieth win last year?
His quality of play. His quality of mind. The way he went about it. His maturity level is certainly older than his age. It was fun to watch him being in total control.

Do you think anyone playing today will pass Jack’s 18 majors or Tiger’s 14 majors?
It would be difficult, but it would have to be a player like Jordan or Rory [McIlroy] or one of these young kids who come out and win majors early. You’re not going to start at 30 and win your first major and get there, that’s for sure.

Is there too much emphasis on majors when we look back on a player’s career?
No. Absolutely not. Maybe not enough. What separates a player? A guy’s won 20 events but no major? Or a guy that won 15 events and two of them were majors, or one? It’s always been the barometer. Every player, I think there goal is to win a major championship.

I just always think of someone like Billy Casper who only won three majors, but who won 69 times as a professional and often gets overlooked.
But you see that’s relative. He won 69 events, but he won three majors. So that speaks volumes. There are guys that won in the 20s that didn’t win majors. Guys that were good players that never had a major. It’s the hole in their whole career. Look at Doug Sanders. Doug Sanders is not in the Hall of Fame, and there are guys in the Hall of Fame with less wins than Doug Sanders, and the reason is they won a major or two majors.

It’s also the 30th anniversary of not only Jack’s win at the 1986 Masters, but also your U.S. Open win at Shinnecock. Were you inspired at all by Jack’s win at 46?
I never thought of that. I always felt competitive. I was competitive in my 40s. I won on the Tour when I was almost 50. I won Doral when I was 49. I played with confidence, and I always said if I don’t feel like I can win that’s when I’ll quit the Tour. And I would’ve. But here came the seniors tour, and I felt like I could win there, which I did. That kept me competing.

You were certainly one of the players who helped to popularize the Champions Tour. But now with guys making so much money and so many outside business interests, do you think the Champions Tour will suffer?
Yeah I think it will somewhat. But still, guys have that competitive spirit. It gives them something to do. It keeps them healthy. To me, that was the key of the Champions Tour, it kept me working out and healthy, eating properly and doing things to stay competitive. That was a big positive for me.

Do you think a player over 50 years old will win a major?
Yeah, I do. At 50 and 52, I lost in a playoff [at the Masters] to [Nick] Faldo, and I finished second to Freddie Couples. If I did it back then, guys are in better shape now than they were in my era.

You were an assistant Ryder Cup captain for Paul Azinger in 2008. What was it like being back in that team room again?
It was awesome. Ryder Cups were always some of my fondest memories and best experiences. If somebody said to me if you had to take one thing out of your career? Would it be a Masters or a U.S. Open? If I had to pull one experience, it would be my captaincy at the Ryder Cup. My wife was involved. She captained the girls. It was a special, special, special time in my life. That is still today the one experience would be a Ryder Cup captain. Ryder Cups are very special, and to be invited back by Paul to be an assistant was really special to be a part of that.

Do you think the overall spirit is better now, especially after 9/11 when they had to postpone it for a year? It was getting pretty heated after what happened in 1999.
Yeah, and I think there is a better feel. We got away from that. Some of the ugliness in the galleries, I think that’s contained now and realizing the spirit of the competition and how it was started it was [about] relationships. One country with another, goodwill through the game of golf. And it got a little high-spirited, which I don’t think was good. But I think it’s leveled out now. Every two years, it is the golf event in the world.

What do you think of the U.S. task force?
I thought it was needed. I thought it was a good move. We were getting it handed to us year-in and year-out, and they had a system. They started a system that worked, and it has worked and it is strictly, I think it is a professional way of doing business, if you would.

And I think for our PGA of America to start thinking about how are we going to win, it’s a little more than just throwing a new captain in every year and there is no continuity, players don’t know what they are doing. The captain has assistant captains, but the continuity is not there as it was for years on the European side. The guy was an assistant captain for two or three years before he became the captain. He got the feel of it, and what it takes to win and how you go about winning.

And of course no matter what when you have for so many years a nucleus of the European team that was the nucleus of eight or nine guys and they were all playing together every year on their teams in alternate shot situations or foursomes, that’s a tough thing to beat when you got the same people playing together every year.

We had a bigger turnover. You can look back in our history and we’re likely six first-time Ryder Cuppers every two years. We had more of a turnover of good players. That’s why they say that experience is so important. However now you look back and some of our younger guys have done better in their first year than some of the veterans.

Did anyone ever try to change your swing?
No. My father was my teacher. I had a really classic, good golf swing early in my career, and I learned to play around injury. My swing would change with injury. I was blessed with the ability that I could perform by altering. Later in my career with a bad hip, I ended up having back surgery, and I ended up having knee replacement. And a good athlete can work around it and still perform. I was blessed to be able to do that. But, no, I had no peer pressure to do anything. I was doing the best I could.