Every now and then, proof is furnished that golf is the most curious of games. A player will come along with a name out of an old Cary Grant movie—Nick Price, for example—and with no credentials whatsoever will go out there in a big professional tournament and beat up on a group of stars whose reputations should make him hug the trunk of the nearest tree and pray for darkness. South Africa's Price did just that at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, winning the World Series of Golf on Sunday by an easy four strokes over runner-up Jack Nicklaus, and by more than that over Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin, Isao Aoki and the rest of the field of 41. At the finish, the scoreboard listed a group that might have convened to discuss endorsement fees—until you got to the top. You had the feeling that if Price had had time to look that board over, he would have reached for his autograph book.
That the championship Price ran off with Sunday afternoon is in danger of losing its significance was clearly beside the point to the 26-year-old stylist from Johannesburg by way of Zimbabwe. In one week in Ohio he won $100,000, almost four times as much as he had banked all year on the PGA Tour. Price came into the event not as a tournament winner but as the leader of the South African Order of Merit standings, a suspect honor at best. He had finished second three times on the South African tour last winter, after which he came to the U.S., where his best finish in 17 events was a tie for ninth at the Kemper Open.
What made his Firestone rounds of 66, 68. 69 and 67 even more impressive were two things: the company he kept while doing it, and, no doubt, his memories of the fainting spell he had experienced the last time he had been in the real spotlight. Golf fans may recall the only previous occasion when they had been aware of Price. It was at Troon, in Scotland, in the summer of '82, when he led the British Open by three strokes with only six holes to play, and then did what Nick Prices are expected to do. He blew the title to Tom Watson, going four over par on those last six holes, Troon regrettably lacking a windmill par 3.
But Price, a tall, sturdy, good-looking bachelor, did nothing of the sort at Firestone, despite the pairings which put him in such fast company. When he shot that 66 to lead on Thursday, he did it in the presence of Floyd and Miller. When he holed out an eight-iron for an eagle 2 at the 470-yard 9th hole on Friday, he did it with Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Clampett watching. On Saturday, as Floyd and Australia's Graham Marsh tagged along, he kept playing "to the fat part of the greens"—his game plan, he said—to shoot the 69 and hold a two-stroke lead. And then on Sunday he birdied the 2nd, 7th and 10th holes under the watchful eyes of Irwin and Aoki and strolled unwaveringly to his 67 and a 72-hole total of 270. There was nothing anyone could do but play for second, and Nicklaus' 65 settled that issue.
There was only one fleeting moment Sunday when Price resembled the guy back at Troon. He let his tee shot at the par-3 15th veer off into a bunker, and was faced with a long sand shot, not the easiest kind. The thought occurred to many that this could be the start of something bizarre, but such thoughts disappeared when Price nearly holed the bunker shot.
"All I wanted to do was prove I could play golf without choking," Price said later. "I've thought about that British Open a lot. I don't think I choked, but I don't know what else you can call a couple of bad tee shots." Price confessed that he hadn't come to Akron to win a golf tournament. "I came to work on my game for the tournaments that remain this year," he said.
With that simple statement, Price touched on some things about the troubled World Series of Golf, an event that may or may not have a future.
Maybe our touring pros and the golfing public have just been over-Akroned and over-Firestoned through the years, but it certainly seems that each time the competitors show up for the World Series they have to dig deeper to display any enthusiasm for the event, which was designed to represent something exclusively wonderful.
"I know it's supposed to be important, but I think most of us tell ourselves that instead of feeling it," Ben Crenshaw said. "Maybe we're all a little tired by the time it comes around."
Lanny Wadkins, a former champion, came a little closer to the problem when he said, "I was happy to win it, but I've never really known what I won."