"We play with you, maybe we shoot 64," Mohamed said, feeling a bit more sure of himself. Arnold smiled politely.
Which is about as close as the world of Palmer and Nicklaus ever gets to that of Cherif and Moussa. While Arnold and Jack are cruising around from week to week in their private jets, the Egyptians are home trying to make a living out of the meager business of golf. When a new shipment of clubs and balls arrives from England, they and the pros from Egypt's other courses (including the nine-hole layout alongside the pyramids where goats graze on the fairways and the sphinx smiles as you slice) must go down to customs and haggle over the paperwork for hours.
Once the new equipment arrives at their pro shops, the government tells them how much they can charge, generally a markup of around 10%, as compared with anywhere from 40%; up in the U.S. Lessons are even less rewarding—$2.50 an hour, and the same for an 18-hole playing lesson.
Egypt's courses, for all their scenic wonder, lack the testing qualities that are so necessary if you are to learn to play championship golf. Rough is almost nonexistent, mainly because club members have an aversion to losing balls. Tournaments, except for the frequent pro-ams, are scarce.
"We can practice plenty," Cherif explains, "but we lazy a bit. What we need to find is a good game. The most we need is competition. First time I play in England in front of a lot of people I hit my first tee shot 50 yards, straight up in the air high. I sweat."
Last week in Mexico City it was not exactly a case of no sweat. What happened to the Egyptians—and what happened to Palmer and Nicklaus—epitomized the World Cup. Like the Chinese (Hsieh Yung-yo was catching Palmer on Friday) and the Puerto Ricans (David Jim�nez was tied with Nicklaus), the Egyptians enjoyed their moments of glory. At the end of the first day they had posted an even-par 144, a significant accomplishment on a 7,250-yard course whose fairways are lined by 400,000 trees. "What time will the news of our score get back to Cairo?" Cherif asked the following morning. After all, they were only four strokes behind the Americans. The next day was not so good—a 75 for Cherif and a 74 for Mohamed—but still, they were tied for ninth and only 12 strokes back.
Then came Saturday and, oh, it was a shame.
"We start good, very good," said Cherif, which was certainly true, for they quickly went three under par. "Every shot, it is right for the pin. Then all of a sudden, bad luck."
The bad luck first took the form of a drive that Mohamed hit into the trees on the 8th hole. Then he hit another tree, and got a bad bounce as well. It added up to a triple bogey. On the back nine it was Cherif, who is 43, nine years older than Mohamed, who bowed to the pressure after the misfortune of having an excellently hit iron shot fall short by inches and bury itself hopelessly in the face of a bunker, causing his first of three double bogeys. The day ended with the Egyptians 28 strokes behind Palmer and Nicklaus, and Sunday merely left them 17 more strokes back and in a tie for 16th place. But they had, after all, gotten some of the competition they wanted, and they had gotten to talk to Arnold Palmer.
By the time Palmer had reached Mexico City to play in his version of the World Cup about the only person he was talking to was himself. He felt as though he had traveled more than all the rest of the international field put together. He had, in fact, covered 47,000 miles since late September—New York, Tokyo, London, Houston, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Mexico City—and played a tournament each week. "I can hardly drag one foot after the other," he said before the competition began. "But I'll get myself cranked up somehow."