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He Beat The Heat By Catching Fire
Dan Jenkins
August 16, 1982
Raymond Floyd got comfortable with a record opening-round 63 and kept his cool to win the PGA at sultry Southern Hills
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August 16, 1982

He Beat The Heat By Catching Fire

Raymond Floyd got comfortable with a record opening-round 63 and kept his cool to win the PGA at sultry Southern Hills

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It could be written on a wall somewhere: Raymond Floyd says happiness is a double bogey on the last hole to win a major golf tournament by three strokes. That was how the 64th annual PGA Championship ended last Sunday in an August blast furnace known as Tulsa. By then, all that mattered was that Floyd was taking a little more time to get it over with, which meant a few more sweat stains on everybody's clothing. Floyd had actually started ending the tournament on the day it began in 100� heat by fashioning a magnificent 63 on the proud terrain of Southern Hills Country Club, and this brought forth an old saying from the tour locker rooms: When Fat Raymond starts to strut, you can forget it, baby.

Raymond was in one of those grooves of his at Southern Hills in the last of the year's Big Four events. When such a thing happens, it's terribly difficult for anyone to catch him on a golf course for two reasons: 1) he's an experienced and talented player; and 2) he's a fierce competitor who has been doubly toughened up by years of big-money gambling. Fat Raymond, who isn't so fat anymore incidentally, knows how to play golf for his own money—and yours. It's well known that he likes a sporting game in practice.

So it was that Floyd followed up his seven-under 63 on Thursday with a one-under 69 on Friday and then a two-under 68 on Saturday, and never did he look more like himself than on Sunday afternoon over most of the back nine after it fleetingly appeared that somebody else—a Greg Norman, a Fred Couples, a Calvin Peete, a Lanny Wadkins, the eventual runner-up—had even a remote chance to overtake him.

Floyd is always aggressive with every club in his bag, and this was when he calmly proceeded to birdie the 12th, 15th and 16th holes to rub out any notion that he was going to let the championship slip away from him.

That he finished weakly was only a mild embarrassment. All the double-bogey 6 cost him was the tournament's 72-hole scoring record. His closing 72 brought him in at 272, one more stroke than Bobby Nichols had taken at the Columbus (Ohio) Country Club back in 1964. Floyd deserved the record, one had to believe, for he devoured Southern Hills, a course with a reputation for brutality, a narrow old place with rolls to it and evil water beds here and there.

It's true that Floyd and others in the 150-player field caught Southern Hills on a boiling week when the greens were soft enough to hold even the most indifferent iron shot. At frequent intervals the greens had to be watered down, practically to mush, to keep the bent grass from totally disappearing, which it almost did anyhow. Iron shots kept striking the putting surfaces and going splat. Southern Hills had the smoothest mud anybody had ever putted on. And for the last round the greens were softer still because of an overnight rainstorm, or, as they call it in the Southwest, a "duck-drownin' stump-floater."

O.K., so the dart-throwing, arrow-shooting brand of golf that would be required was going to damage Southern Hills' reputation and take the winner far below par of 280. Somebody had to win, and Floyd knew it had to be him after Thursday's 63, which was merely, by his own description, "the greatest single round I've ever played." He hit only one halfway poor shot that day, and missed several putts within makable range. The round could have produced a number even lower than the 63; Floyd's scorecard showed nine consecutive threes from the 6th through the 14th holes.

After the round, Raymond said to a friend, "My game is in the best shape it's been all year. I'm in control. I know what I can do and what I can't do here. I played well at the British Open, but nobody knows it because I never made a putt. I've had some rest. Somebody is going to have to play very well to beat me now."

As stunning as it was, the 63 lost a bit of its luster before Thursday ended, for it slowly became clear that Southern Hills' soft greens had disarmed the course. Bob Gilder and Norman each shot a 66, and then 67s went on the board from people like Nick Faldo, Rex Caldwell and Couples, who only birdied the last six holes on the course to do it.

There would be more low rounds the next three days, further deflating the ego of Southern Hills' members, but none of them was posted by Tom Watson or Jack Nicklaus, the two players on whom most of the pre-championship attention was naturally focused. Watson did close with a creditable 68 Sunday and wound up in a tie for ninth, but he was never a factor in Tulsa, where he was expected to make a serious bid to become the first golfer since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three majors in one year, having taken the U.S. and British Opens earlier.

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