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For a day or so leading up to the game, there was as much talk in the Firestone grillroom about Benjamin High as there was about Seve Ballesteros leading the first day with a 69, or Green taking command of the tournament after his second-round 67. It was treated pretty much as a joke until Saturday morning when page one of the Akron Beacon Journal carried an account of the Benjamin-Glade game, and readers had to probe deep into the paper to find out what was happening at Firestone. Nicklaus had shot a 76 on Friday in his haste to get to the football game, and, of course, he was then no longer a contender in the World Series. The big news, obviously, was that Jackie Nicklaus recovered a fumble in the end zone for what turned out to be the winning touchdown in Benjamin's 14-12 victory. For those keeping stats, Steve Nicklaus had caught three passes.
What all of this did was slightly anger the World Series sponsors and frustrate Commissioner Deane Beman of the PGA Tour, for it pointed out to everyone that there is something wrong with the event—something difficult to describe.
It is certainly a good idea to have such a tournament, an ultra-exclusive festival offering a bundle to the winner, an event almost as hard to get into as the bathroom just off the Oval Office. It is supposed to be a "world championship," an event that would, as Beman put it, "transcend the Big Four," meaning the U.S. and British Opens, the Masters and the national PGA, which are the major championships of the sport—the ones that annually manage to bring all of the players' games and emotions to a peak. But as yet, there is no intensity to the World Series. There has not been any excitement around Firestone in the three Series that have been held there since the format was changed in 1976. Whether it was during the week that Nicklaus won the first one, or last year when Lanny Wadkins won, or even last Sunday when things finally started popping in the final round, the World Series has had approximately the impact of an NBA All-Star game.
One of the problems, of course, is timing. The last week in September—what with pennant races, plus pro and college football—may be just too late for anyone to be concerned about golf, especially the players themselves.
As Nicklaus said last week, "Most of us are just going through the motions here. A lot of us have been away from golf, and we've lost an edge. I think it would help if somehow the tournament could be played two or three weeks after the PGA, like the last week of August, when at least you're still thinking golf."
One also must wonder if the exclusivity of the tournament doesn't actually work against it. There were only 24 competitors last week as opposed to the 150 in a normal tour event. Most of the way, it resembled an elaborate exhibition or an executive outing. The crowds at Firestone were decent but hardly immense, and the days of golf were short, because there was no one for the best players in the world to beat but themselves. Moreover, Nicklaus was willing to bet that if the World Series held to the present dates, it would not be too many years before the tournament would be played in sleet or even snow. "I know Ohio," he said.
In fact, there was football weather much of last week, even when the sun was out. Not cold, mind you. Crisp. At times chilly. The kind of feeling in the air when it would seem more appropriate to be watching a team doing calisthenics under a goal post than trudging after a bunch of people trying to knock a little ball into a little hole.