Can Charl, Louis and Branden rekindle the fire at WGC?
Ever heard of the curiously-named Rubber City Open? Well, that was a golf tournament in America in the 1950s held, appropriately, at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
It’s the venue for this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational beginning on Thursday, in which Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth are both going to be chasing individual “hat-tricks” which, if achieved, will be quite remarkable. But I’ll explain this shortly.
To go back in time, Harvey Firestone in 1929 commissioned Firestone CC as a perk for employees of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, and today the club’s South Course – nicknamed The Monster – is, as golf fans will know only too well, one of the storied venues in world golf.
Short-tempered Tommy Bolt, that expert club-thrower, and Arnold Palmer were among the winners of the Rubber City Open which gave way in 1962 to the World Series of Golf, in those days an unofficial, four-man, made-for-television exhibition contested between the year’s four Major champions.
Our own Gary Player won it three times, in 1965, 1968 and 1972 ,and in ’68 hit a shot offline at the par-3 12th hole that saw his golf ball flying into the gallery and coming to rest in a woman’s bosom.
She didn’t know what to do, because if she bent over the ball was going to drop to the ground and roll down a slope into the trees.
So an official was called who told Player – yes, there were not just a few laughs – that he didn’t have to play the ball where it was lying so delicately, but could place it, once she had removed it from its unlikely resting place, at the woman’s feet.
From there he was able to chip close to the flag and save par en route to victory.
In 1976, the World Series was expanded to include more of the world’s leading players – usually between 40 and 50 – and became part of the PGA Tour.
And Southern Africans would enjoy plenty of success in the big-money Firestone shootout. Nick Price was champion in 1983, famously beating Jack Nicklaus into second place, Denis Watson won the following year, David Frost in 1989 and Fulton Allem in 1993.
Since 1999, bar one year, the tournament has been part of the World Golf Series and known as the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The South Course’s back-breaking 667-yard 16th hole is one of the longest par-5s in existence, and Arnold Palmer called it a “Monster” after once making a triple-bogey there and the name has stuck, not only for the hole, but the course as well.
Those hat-tricks? Well, Dustin Johnson has a chance this week to become the first man to capture three WGC crowns in the same year, following his victories in Mexico and the Dell Technologies Match Play. Even though Tiger Woods has an astonishing 18 WGC titles behind his name, he never won more than two in a season.
Johnson, of course, hasn’t won since the Match Play, before hurting his back in a slip-and-fall mishap in Augusta ahead of the Masters, and is reportedly still feeling effects from the injury.
And Spieth’s possible hat-trick? Well, the sweet-swinging Texan is chasing three straight victories after winning the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour before next heading for Royal Birkdale to collect the Claret Jug with his heroics on the closing holes in the Open Championship.
Rory McIlroy will also be at Firestone, after his shock firing in the last few days of his long-time caddie JP Fitzgerald, who was with him for nine years and all four of his Major triumphs.
It is estimated JP earned $1.65 million – that’s well over R20m – in the last 12 months. Gosh, Rory, call me. I’ll lug your bag for a tenth of that!
It might not be the Rubber City Open any more, but let’s hope our boys – Charl, Louis, Branden Grace (they all qualify as being in the top 50 in the world rankings) and Shaun Norris (he gets in after a big win in Japan) – have their games pumped at just the right pressure this week.