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The PGA has held a team championship at various sites off and on since 1965, and there has been a Walt Disney World Golf Classic every year since 1971. Last year the latter became the former and it was won by two pros from Birmingham, Hubert Green and Mac McLendon. Palmer and Jack Nicklaus won three times in the championship's earlier years, but with the dissolution of their partnership Nicklaus began playing with Tom Weiskopf and Palmer has teamed with former Wake Forest golfers, first Jack Lewis Jr., then Lanny Wadkins and, this year, Thompson.
Now, anyone but a Wake Forest golfer might have seen in Leonard Thompson's situation last week a minor ethical and moral problem. Until Palmer approached him in August, Thompson had been committed to playing with Jerry McGee, his partner for three years. But being asked to play golf by Arnold Palmer is like being invited to tea by the Queen of England—at least for a Wake Forest man. As Thompson said before a TV camera after the first day's play, his arm around Arnold's shoulder, "It's not every day you get to play golf with your childhood idol."
Playing with one's idol can put strains on one's other friendships, however. "He asked me first if it was all right," said McGee last week. "We're friends, and I'm not going to let this hurt anything. But there has been some discussion about it. I think there are some guys who would have said no."
Gibby Gilbert was one. Gilbert said no to a Palmer invitation earlier this year because he planned to play for the second time with Bobby Mitchell. It should be noted, however, that Gilbert did not go to Wake Forest.
McGee eventually found himself a new teammate in fellow Buckeye Ed Sneed, who was available because his usual partner, Bert Yancey, has been off the tour because of illness. And Palmer stuck to his commitment to Thompson even though, it is rumored, he briefly considered dropping him for Weiskopf when Nicklaus decided not to play.
If there were any morals to be drawn from this locker-room version of a French farce, they are not entirely clear. Palmer and Thompson missed the cut, Gilbert and Mitchell were fourth and the second team from Ohio State, McGee and Sneed, made $1,477 each and finished in a tie for 18th.
Meanwhile Jim Colbert, beaming, and Dean Refram, with tears in his eyes, each went on and on about what a great golfer the other was and then they were off to the clubhouse to buy champagne for the stragglers.