- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
On the first day of play the high-priced foursome reached the 13th tee, and there they were told they would have to wait for a while. NBC's baseball Game of the Week, the Cubs vs. the Cardinals, was still in the ninth inning and, until it was over, action in the World Series of Golf would come to a halt. The network's cameras remained poised, ready.
"Tell whoever's pitching to hurry up and pitch so we can get going," said Jack Nicklaus to a network official who carried a walkie-talkie.
"Hey, Jack, I'm wearing a pair of your slacks," put in a voice from the crowd, enriching the already pervasive climate of casually ragged disinterest. "Have you got time to do a commercial?"
Despite ingredients that are invariably prime stuff, the World Series of Golf continues to be a sporting enigma, a spectacle whose time somehow seems to have come and gone, or perhaps never came at all. Once again last week the event, which for 12 years has thrust together in a precisely television-shaped, two-day, 36-hole face-off the winners of golf's four major championships, was loaded with potential excitement—and produced barely stifled yawns.
The most resourceful producer could hardly have lined up a more interesting cast of characters. Here were Tommy Aaron, golf's Mr. Also-Ran until he won the Masters at Augusta this spring; brisk, blond young Johnny Miller, whose electrifying final-round 63 had brought him the U.S. Open; Tom Weiskopf, who climaxed an incredible summer hot streak with the British Open title; and of course, Nicklaus, the old reliable himself, making his ninth appearance in the series. As Miller put it, the contest was three World Series rookies vs. Mr. Invincible. And the course was one of golf's finest, the long and demanding Firestone Country Club in Akron.
Yet, when Weiskopf had fashioned a two-round score of 137 to earn the winner's check of $50,000 by a three-shot margin over Nicklaus and Miller, when the television cables and cameras had been folded up and hauled off, and the gallery of some 6,000 had faded away with the setting sun, what remained for the record books was an exhibition containing about as much significance for golf or golfers as a big fat divot.
"It's hard to say exactly what's wrong," said Nicklaus before this year's show began. "It certainly has the perfect format. It's played on a very fine golf course. But it has just never evolved, it has never been accepted by the public for what it should have been, a true test of who is the best golfer of the year."
Nicklaus had sought seclusion in the locker room after completing only nine holes of his Friday practice round. An infected finger had required potent antibiotic injections, and muscular Jack was feeling weak and washed-out. "There was no way I wanted to play another nine holes," he said. "I didn't even want to play the first nine." Then he added, "But if this really meant something, you can bet I would have finished out even if my hand was falling off."
What should be done? Keep up with inflation by raising the winner's purse to, say, $100,000? Keep up with Women's Lib by bringing in a champion from the women's tour and letting her play from the short tees?
"No," said the man who had won the Series four times and taken $252,000 out of Akron. "It's got to be moved around the country, not played on the same course every year. Firestone is already overexposed from another annual tournament and an annual network television series. I certainly don't want to malign Firestone, it's a very good course, but this World Series should shift every year. That way, I think, you could revive the excitement and the atmosphere it needs and make it a real tournament instead of just a TV show."