The only other question last week was what had Nicklaus won? As the week began, no one around Firestone knew exactly what to think of this "new" World Series. With only 20 players in the field—good as they were—the tournament had the atmosphere of an exhibition, and the sparse crowds on Thursday and Friday contributed to this feeling. The old World Series was certainly an exhibition of sorts, a weekend affair of only 36 holes, limited to four competitors—the winners of the year's major championships—and it generally wound up being televised against several dozen college and pro football games. First place was worth $50,000 and wasn't included in official earnings. In short, it was a dog.
Commissioner Deane Beman's grand plan was to add a snappy season-ender to the PGA tour, not a fifth, sixth or eighth major championship, as he kept putting it, but a special event that would—ahem—"transcend" the Masters and the U.S. Open and the British Open and the National PGA. He got Firestone to host it and help bankroll it, along with the PGA of America, which is that society of club pros who won't give you a discount on your new Hogan irons.
Beman labored over a format that would assure the best field possible. Guys qualified by winning one of the four major championships or by winning more than once on the regular tour or by accumulating enough points in a series of events falling into categories christened by Beman as the Winter, Spring and Summer Tours. As far as the World Series was concerned, the 1976 tour ended two weeks ago, and the 1977 Winter Tour begins this week in Pinehurst. Except for one thing. Official money earnings for 1976 continue through the calendar year. Clear? Certainly. The golf tour was either over or not over in Akron.
Through much of the tournament, the chitchat was about two things: the rules of golf and how they had taken Johnny Miller out of contention, and curious little Murakami, who singlehandedly put the World in Deane Beman's Series.
Miller came to Firestone with his usual armload of kids and every expectation of playing well. His year has been a good one—three victories including the British Open. He said he was up for the event even though he chose not to wear a coat for the flag-raising ceremony, and he was only one over par through the first 14 holes. But he learned on the 15th tee that he had an extra club in his bag, a little sawed-off putter that belonged to his son John. The penalty was four strokes, which probably had something to do with Miller's taking a double bogey on the 16th hole and finishing with 76. From there on he played with the casual attitude of a man who gets very bored when he isn't shooting 61.
"If it had been a plastic toy, there would have been no penalty," said Jack Tuthill, the PGA's tournament director. "It was a club with a grip, a shaft and a blade—the cutest little Bullseye you ever saw."
Later into the opening round the saga of Takashi Murakami began. He was a genial man who could only say "Good morning" and "Good evening" in English, and he qualified by virtue of leading the Japan PGA Order of Merit. Murakami had flown about 14 hours to reach Akron barely in time for one practice round, but he sank every putt he looked at on Thursday and astonished everyone when he was tied for the first-round lead. He was still tied for the lead after a few holes on Sunday, but he finally gave way, finishing ninth.
Through an interpreter, Murakami took an hour and a half to describe his 26 first-round putts and say he admired Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus.
Well, if Murakami was suffering any jet lag after crossing the dateline backward, the 67 cured it. And if that didn't do it, then his four-wood did on Friday. At Firestone's 16th hole, a long, narrow par-5 on which Lee Trevino was later to make a nine and Ben Crenshaw an 11, Murakami tried to play himself off the leader board by hitting the four-wood straight at the pond on the front right of the green.
It was not a screamer, the kind of shot one might expect to skip across the water if the golfer was a churchgoer. It sailed high and it looked to be plunging straight into the pond. Which, in fact, it did. Except that the ball bounced off the water and up onto the green as if it had struck a cart path.