The winner of the 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills—and a Hamptons summer resident for over 20 years—recalls the pressure of that week but hasn’t forgotten what it was like to win his first Tour event, 23 years earlier
Q. You won 22 times on the PGA Tour. What do you remember about your maiden victory, which made you the youngest winner of a PGA Tour event since Ralph Guldahl in 1932?
It was March of 1963 at the St. Petersburg Open. I birdied 16 and made a 25-foot par putt at 17 to shoot 69 and hold off Dave Marr by a stroke. I remember I was packing up in the locker room at Lakewood Country Club and I heard two men talking about this 20-year-old kid about to win his first tournament. One of them said, “Who is this Ray Floyd?” They didn’t know I was in there or even what I looked like. Then a guy walks in says, “Is Ray Floyd here?” and I said, “Yes, I am.” And he told me I had won and they needed me for the trophy presentation. I didn’t know that I was supposed to do that. I didn’t know anything except that my dad had put together a syndicate of six members from his club in Fayetteville and they put up $500 apiece to bankroll me. I had been traveling in my car for three months and hadn’t won a dime, so the timing was pretty good.
Q. What’s your most vivid memory from shooting a final-round 66 and winning the 1986 U.S. Open at age 43?
It takes four rounds to win. I don’t overlook what I did in the first round. I hit only five greens and shot 75. My putter saved me. I took just 25 putts in one of the worst days of weather probably in the history of the U.S. Open. It felt like a British Open. When I walked off the course, I told my wife, “I survived.” I got into the mix and on Sunday there was a stampede of 10 world-class players within a stroke of the lead—guys like Greg Norman, Lee Trevino, and Payne Stewart. I was the only contender who shot under par that day to prevail.
Q. Your wife, Maria, once told me you were so in the zone that you stared right through her and didn’t notice her as you walked to the 11th tee during the final round. Is that true?
She said I didn’t see her, but I did. I was focused or what you called “being in the zone.” I had that stare. Some players called it “The Look.” My wife said she’d seen me win tournaments without the stare, but she’d never seen me lose one with it.
Q. How did your love affair with Southampton begin? It’s quite a change from Fayetteville, N.C., and Miami.
That is true. I had never been on Long Island until that Open. That week was a business trip for me. We kind of liked it, but when we went back in 1995, we drove around the area with the kids and we loved the area, bought land, and built a home there in 1997. I’m out there for the summer months. The Hamptons has its own microclimate. It can be 90 degrees and stifling in Manhattan yet 82 with a pleasant breeze in the Hamptons. I’m a member at Shinnecock, National Golf Links, and Atlantic Golf Club. I play quite a bit with my friends who tend to have handicaps in the 10–20 range.
Q. If you had to choose between Shinnecock and National, which would you play?
They are so totally different. Shinnecock is a world-class championship course. I don’t think any first-rank golfer would have it outside their top courses. The National is a step back in time. It’s so special.
Q. What are you doing these days to keep your hand in golf?
I’m out of golf. I’m retired. I’m in the Bahamas right now. I bonefish. I fly-fish. I fish for salmon in June in Canada. I go to Alaska and do trout fishing. I shoot birds and I shoot sporting clays. I’ve got things to keep me busy. I’m out of the game and I’m happy that I am.