Bobby doesn't make an effort to be a nice guy. He just is one." That is how a member of the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio feels about his club pro, Bobby Nichols. And just about everybody who ever met Bobby Nichols agrees, including the other pros on the PGA tour, which is a good thing, because if he were not so likable he could be the cause of a serious case of the envies among his peers. Besides being rich, good looking and not in the least self-absorbed, Nichols hits his drives 300 yards when he wants to, sinks 25-foot putts when he has to and holds down the best club job in golf.
But when the game's elite—the winners of the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA—gather at Firestone's South Course for the World Series of Golf and a chance to win 550,000 for 36 holes labor, Bobby Nichols, the host pro for the last six years, has been on the outside looking in, a wistful observer from a no-man's land, somewhere between touring pro and Firestone executive.
Nichols customarily devotes the week of the World Series to helping entertain his employer's hundreds of guests. He makes ceremonial appearances at cocktail parties for the press and delivers speeches of welcome at dinners for the sponsors of the NBC telecast. At the same time he supervises the operation of a sizable golfing business from an office just off the floor of his spacious well-stocked pro shop.
Last week, though, for the first time since he won the PGA in 1964, Nichols was back out on the course with the champions. In the midst of his best year since joining the tour in 1960 he had won the Canadian Open, and since Gary Player had won both the Masters and the British Open, the Canadian Open champion became the fourth member of the Series foursome. Instead of shaking hands in the grill room, Nichols was gripping irons on the practice tee and grinning at the hundreds of non-VIPs who wished him well wherever he went.
It would be pleasant to report that the nice guy from Firestone won. He didn't, but he didn't finish last either. That was left to U.S. Open winner Hale Irwin, who floundered around the 7,180-yard course in 76-72=148, eight overpar. Nichols, with 71-72=143, was third.
The rest of the field finished first. Player and Lee Trevino, those fierce competitors, put on a show the folks in Akron will not soon forget. They completed the regulation 36 holes tied at 139, played another five of sudden-death still even, and quit only when Jack Tuthill of the PGA decided that darkness had fallen for both players and TV. So they went at it again at 10 o'clock Monday morning, Trevino nailing down the win when Player bogeyed the—let's see—43rd hole.
Both Player and Trevino were moaning when they came to Firestone, a dangerous sign. Player was coming off what he himself called three weeks of terrible golf, a tie for 52nd at Hartford, a tic for 35th at Westchester and a missed cut at the TPD championship in Atlanta. Total winnings: $1,666. Poor Gary.
Trevino, the PGA champion, arrived saying he was going to "take my $5,000 and run." Five thousand is last-place money in the World Series and last was where Trevino had finished in two of his previous appearances. Poor Lee.
Then, with the ground work laid, the fight began. Player opened with a nifty 67 to take a three-stroke lead over Trevino, and by the 5th hole Sunday he had increased his margin to six. But within the space of the next nine holes Trevino picked up seven shots and with only four holes left had the lead. A Trevino bogey at the 16th put them even. On 17 Trevino sank a 12-footer for a birdie and Player answered it with a 10-footer of his own. Player was in trouble on 18 but a magnificent fairway bunker shot saved his par.
So it was back out to 14 and sudden-death. Trevino had to sink three ugly putts for pars, one of them following a remarkable recovery from a thorny barberry bush. Player, too, had his escapes, including a final Sunday putt of four feet.