Ray Floyd never had a doubt in his mind that he wanted to be a professional golfer. Growing up in North Carolina, he had a natural talent for playing the sport and a father who managed a golf course—meaning endless access to a mentor and equipment, luxuries many aspiring golfers don’t have.
Also a skilled baseball player in high school, he was offered a spot on the Cleveland Indians’ roster but turned it down to pursue golf.
Still, that didn’t mean he always took the game seriously.
Off the course, Floyd was notorious for partying, an interest that affected his golf records. After his rookie accomplishments, he went four years without a victory in the early 1970s.
It took a woman named Maria Fraietta to straighten him out.
He met her in Miami Beach when he was 31 and asked her on a date the second time he laid eyes on her. Nine months later they were married, and nine months after that they welcomed their first child.
Ray credited Maria for helping him turn around his golf career. He’s won 22 PGA Tours, including four major championships, and played on eight Ryder Cup teams, captaining one and serving as assistant on another. In 1986, Ray captured the U.S. Open at age 43, the oldest winner at the time. Three years later he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, and in 1992 he became the first player to win on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour in the same year.
A fierce competitor, Ray was known for “the stare”—an intense look of concentration that appeared in his eyes when he was on his way to a tournament win.
Yet the formidable stare is a little dimmer these days.
In September, Maria passed away after a battle with bladder cancer. As Ray’s wife of 39 years, she had been a fixture on his side, both on and off the course. In 2009, the couple led a campaign to raise funds for the renovation of Palm Beach’s Par 3 golf course, a project Ray completed for free.
The Floyds moved to the Palm Beach area in 1997, and Ray took up golf course design when he retired in 2010. In addition to the Par 3, he’s developed or renovated several courses throughout Florida, including Old Palm in Palm Beach Gardens.
Ray also donates his time as an instructor for Hook A Kid On Golf, a summer program that teaches children how to play the game.
PBI caught up with Ray about his life and golf game past and present—and the woman who turned both around for the better.
When you were 17, you were offered the opportunity to play baseball for Cleveland. Why did you decide to pursue golf instead?
It was one of those fatherly things. My dad would’ve had to cosign the contract because I wasn’t of age. The [recruiter] offered me some money—quite a bit back in 1960—and I looked at my dad and said, “What do you think?” He said, “My advice to you is: If you want to play baseball, you give it 100 percent and you forget about golf. And if it’s golf you want to play, you shake that gentleman’s hand and thank him for his time and his offer.”
It took me about five seconds. I stood up and I thanked the man for his time and his effort. I wanted to play golf.
That’s the influence of a parent. It’s better than parenting 101—it’s pretty good parenting.
You went on to have a stellar golf career. What’s your most meaningful or memorable achievement?
If somebody said, “We’re taking all of your tournament wins away from you, but we’re going to leave you one,” I’d say, “Well, you’d have to leave the Father-Son Challenge,” because I won that with both of my sons.
With only four majors in the world, and me winning three of the four, and with the Hall of Fame—it’s something that you never even dream to achieve. My goal was to be a professional golfer. Never dreamed that I’d achieve what I did in the game.
What is the one golf tip you would tell aspiring players?
Get professional instruction. Absolutely. That’s the best tip I could ever give anybody getting into the game. It is paramount, because the habits you create can be good or bad. You get proper instruction, you create the good habits and the game comes to you a lot easier and a lot quicker.
What’s the best golf advice you ever received?
I learned it early because of my dad: Practice. Like most things you do, what you get out of it is what you put in. Playing just once a week is not going to make you a better player. The most successful people in the world, in any industry, didn’t work from 9-5—not one of them. They worked more hours than you could even fathom.
What would you say has been the biggest change you’ve seen in golf since you started playing professionally?
Technology. The equipment is so much more sophisticated. You can hit the ball farther, and it doesn’t curve as much. It makes it easier to play than with the equipment of old. It’s like an automobile: Would you want to drive a 1955 Ford or a 2015 Ford [laughs]? It’s improved.
You’re known for your infamous stare when you’re concentrating hard on the course. What’s going on behind the eyes?
I never realized that I did it, obviously, because it was when I got into the zone. My wife, Maria, once told a reporter, “I have seen him win golf tournaments without the stare, but I’ve never seen him lose one with it.”
It was that zone—I always felt like I hardly was walking; I was kind of floating. I was looking through people. Had I been able to induce that stare at will, I’d have won a lot more.
Maria had a huge impact on your golf game. How did she inspire you as an athlete?
It was just her influence. She was just a special person in so many ways, but she had like a sixth sense, if you will.
The first year we were married, I would ruin the middle of a tournament. [During one in particular,] I wanted to hurry back to Miami to go to the [car] races. She said, “Please don’t do that.” I did anyway. We went back to the hotel, and I was packing, rushing, throwing everything in a suitcase, wanting to get to the airport to catch a plane, and I said to her, “What are you doing? Get ready?” She looked at me and said, “I came here to be here through the weekend, and I’m not leaving here until the weekend’s over.”
That was one of the great weekends of my life, because we sat and talked. She said, “Look, you’re 32 years old. If you don’t like golf or if you don’t feel like that’s what you want to do, you’re young enough to start another career.” Of course, that was the slap against the head, because that was all I ever wanted to do. My only goal in life was to be a golf professional. So that was really a wakeup call.
She knew when to pat me on the back, and she knew when to kick me in the rear [laughs]. She was a great partner.
What do you remember about the first time you saw or met her?
I remember everything. I used to stay at the Palm Bay Club, and our mutual friend owned an apartment there. I met Maria the first year I came there. She was beautiful. I came back the next year, and I saw her my first day back, and I went up and asked her if I could I take her to dinner. That was around March, and we married in December.
Golf is often heralded as the sport of a lifetime. What does that mean to you?
Golf’s a game of integrity. We don’t have official calling rules. If you have five strokes, you write five. You don’t move the ball; you play it as it lies. And you learn if you do something wrong, you pay the penalty. I’ve always said if one led their life by the rules of the game of golf, they’d be a stand-up citizen.
It’s a gentlemanly game. It’s a game of compassion. You’re trying to beat the people you’re playing with, but it’s sporting. You’re polite, you’re still and you don’t talk when others play.
What would you say is your life motto?
Keep on living [laughs].
How do you want to be remembered?
I think my legacy will be my family—my children and my grandchildren. I would want them to look up and say that I was a good father or a good grandfather. I couldn’t care less about my career as a legacy. As a human being, I would like to be remembered by more about my family. That’s important to me.