The soil of Japan is not hospitable to the bent grasses on which golf is traditionally played in Britain and the U.S. A tough native grass called "Korai" has been commonly used, but this is stiff and prickly when mowed close, and leading foreign golfers often complained about the Korai greens when they visited Japan. As the nation began to care more about golf, it became sensitive to the annoyance of heroes like the great Sam Snead. At considerable expense, the leading courses, such as Yomiuri, built two greens for each hole, one of Korai for day-to-day use and one of imported bent for special occasions. Needless to say, Yomiuri's bent greens will be used for the Canada Cup.
It is alarming to contemplate what effect the coming Canada Cup matches could have on Japanese golf, for the present golf boom dates from the first appearance of this event in Japan in 1957. On that occasion, the Japanese watched the players on TV more out of curiosity than interest. To their immeasurable surprise and pleasure, they saw their own team—made up of Pete Nakamura and Koichi Ono—defeat all of the foreign invaders, including the heavily favored Americans, Snead and Jimmy Demaret. It was a moment comparable to that faraway day in 1913 at Brookline, Mass. when Francis Ouimet, the unknown young Bostonian, beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff for the U.S. Open Championship and thereby started the transformation of golf from a rich man's luxury to everyman's sport.
It is not very likely that a Japanese team could win on its home ground in 1966, but it wasn't conceivable in 1957, either. One of their two players, 28-year-old Hideyo Sugimoto, is large for a Japanese at 5 feet 11 and is regarded as his country's biggest hitter. He has never done too well abroad, but he was the Japanese Open champion in 1964, and he has the distinct advantage of playing at Yomiuri, where he is the head pro. His teammate, 24-year-old Mitsutaka Kono, is on the slight side and only 5 feet 6, but he has won the Japanese PGA championship for the past two years and can be extremely dangerous when his somewhat erratic game is at its peak. And the course itself will cut down the normal advantage that long-hitting foreigners might have. At 6,962 yards it is not overly long, and it has many treacherous slopes and areas where the wind, unfelt on the tee, will suddenly grab at the ball over an exposed section of fairway.
Nonetheless, the favorites will be the American entry of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Off his recent victory at the Sahara in Las Vegas, Nicklaus is obviously playing well again after some shaky golf in the early fall. He has the added incentive of wanting to regain the International Trophy for individual play, which he won at Paris in 1963 and Hawaii in 1964 but lost to South Africa's Gary Player at Madrid in last year's matches.
Palmer's incentive is somewhat different. By rights, his place on the team should belong to Bill Casper, who is not only the current U.S. Open champion but also the leading money-winner of the PGA tour. Palmer is as aware of this as everyone else, and he will be especially anxious next week to justify his selection. Not only that, but in four previous appearances on the U.S. Canada Cup team—more than any other American except Snead—he has never won the International Trophy. Such a victory at this stage in the year would do wonders for Arnold's morale. His Australian Open win a week ago was his first since the Tournament of Champions last April, and he is still smarting from his debacle in the U.S. Open at San Francisco.
It should be noted that Palmer's selection was entirely the decision of the Japanese hosts. The formula for choosing our team was drawn up by the U.S. PGA itself. It involves the PGA sending the host country a list of six players from which it can designate the two it wants. As long as Palmer's name is on that list the host country is going to choose him ahead of any other American golfer. Matsutaro Shoriki, the chairman of this year's matches, put the case quite plainly, saying, "We asked for Arnold Palmer to be included on the U.S. team because Mr. Palmer is the best-known golfer to the Japanese. Japanese golf fans regard him as the god of golf, and they sincerely want to see him play in this country."
Due in no small part to Mr. Palmer's presence, the four days of the Canada Cup competition are sure to be sold out before the golfers tee up on Thursday morning. One reason for this is the difficulty of accommodating galleries on Yomiuri's restricted hillsides. Since it would be impossible for large numbers of people to follow the progress of the various matches, it was decided to limit each day's gallery to 5,000, all of whom must remain stationary in some pre-selected position.
The enthusiasm of the golfu kichigai is such that they seem willing to accept this restriction without any serious public demonstrations. But if by any chance the Japanese victory of 1957 should be repeated, they will need Mt. Fuji to seat the crowd next time.