"Recall," as in sending a defective product back to the manufacturer, is something of a dirty word these days in this northeast Ohio city, where rubber is as vital to the local economy as chickens are to Maryland's Eastern Shore. Firestone Tire Rubber Co., the neighborhood industry giant, is not happy about those alleged peeling tires that recently have come home to roost.
But "recall," as in remembering, can be a pleasant experience. And conditions yesterday at the Firestone Country Club had many in the elite 26-man field for the $300,000 World Series of Golf recalling with a mixture of awe, respect and fondness just how tough this grand and storied golf course can play.
With a nippy 12 to 20-mile-per-hour breeze blowing out of the north, drying out already rock-hard fairways and greens, Firestone's 7,130-yard, par-70 South Course played the way it used to, allowing few birdies and demanding good golf in exchange for good scores.
Only Severiano Ballesteros, the charismatic 21-yar-old Spaniard who is torn between playing the U.S. tour next year and staying home where he means so much as "the Arnold Palmer of Europe," bettered par. Despite hiting only eight fairways, he shot 69 to take a one-stroke first-round lead over defending champion Lanny Wadkins, who loves Firestone, and Hubert Green, who does not.
Half the field - which includes the top 15 money-winners of the 1978 U.S. tour, mutiple-tournament winners, major tournament champions, and the winners of the British, Australian, Japanese, South African and Asian Orders of Merit - finished 75 or higher.
Included in that higher half were Masters champion Gary Player (76), U.S. Open champ Andy North (77), PGA champ John Mahaffey (75) and the two light-hitting Asian representatives. Isao Aoki of Japan (79) and Hsu Sheng-san of Taiwan (80).
"The golf course was a lot more difficult than it has been the last few years, which I think is good," said Ohioan Jack Nicklaus, the Tournament Players and British Open champ, who has won seven tournaments and more than half a million dollars at Firestone since 1962. "The better golf you play, the more you are rewarded."
Nicklaus, who said he did not know what to expect of himself coming off a six-week layoff, had five bogeys on the front nine and turned at three over par, but finished at two-over 72 and considered himself "in good position."
"The last few years, scores have been very low here, basically due to the watering practices. The course has been very soft, you've been able to keep the ball in the fairway easily, and could throw any kind of a shot into a green from the fairway or rough and hold it. It was like mush, very easy to stop the ball," said Nicklaus.
"In earlier years, I always thought Firestone was the toughest course we played on the tour because conditions were generally firm. If you missed the fairway, you really had to play some sort of shot to get the ball on the green and keep it there. But in recent years they started watering the course very heavily, you would throw anything in there, and consequently guys started shooting 270,268s, whatever.
"They have a new superintendent here now who believes in less watering . . . I think that, as a result, the scores are going back up to normal Firestone levels. It'll require more golf and less just making putts to win," added Nicklaus, who took only 30 putts on the much-faster-than-normal greens.
Texan Tom Kite, who scrambled to a 71 that tied him for third place with Gil Morgan and Hale Irwin, thought officials overdid their restraint in watering and consequently made the course "a little too severe" - albeit unintentionally.
"They didn't try to trick it up as the U.S. Golf Association so often does, but the weather fooled them. If it had stayed like it was Wednesday, with the wind from the south and 15 degrees warmer (in the mid-70s), it would have been OK. As it was, it was too hard and fast."
Waskins, who blistered the course for a record 22-birdie, 13-under-par 267 in beating Irwin and Tom Weiskopf by a stroke for the $100,000 first prize last year, was the first man to tee off yesterday.
It didn't take him long to figure out that scoring would be much tougher this year. "I've never seen Firestone this fast before, and if the wind stays like it is, no amount of water will soften up the greens. If these conditions persist, 280 (even par) could win the tournament."
Wadkins came out of bunkers to make par on fours holes, and saved par with a 40-foot putt on the 15th.
"I didn't drive the ball well at all, but the work I put in on these greens earlier this week paid off," said the 28-year-old former Wake Forest star, who has the best stroke average (70,00) on the South Course of any player in the tournament.
"This is as tough as I've seen Firestone. I think 70 is going to be a very good score here today."
He turned out to be right. Only Ballesteros - who combines erratic power off the tee, superb touch on the greens, and an appealing dash and impetuosity - bettered it.
"Around the greens, very good . . . the driver, not so bad," Ballesteros summed up his three-birdie, two-bogey round. "I was very lucky they cut the rough this year. Last year was much tougher."
As usual, "Seve" saw a good deal of the rough, but hit some wonderful recovery shots. And on the 16th, Firestone's fabled "Monster" that played to 615 yards into the wind yester, [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]