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Argabrite looks back at college golf’s ‘greatest team’

Joe Avento • Jul 8, 2020 at 12:52 AM

KINGSPORT — Bill Argabrite has never been to the Golf World Hall of Fame, but he’s in it.

No, Argabrite hasn’t been enshrined with the greats of the game, although he’s had one heck of a career. He’s in a photo as a member of the 1975 Wake Forest national championship team, which was dubbed by Golf World magazine as the greatest college team ever.

“I’ve had a couple of friends in Kingsport who were on a golf trip in Florida and stopped in to see the Hall of Fame,” Argabrite, a Kingsport native, said. “They told me it was in there. That was nice to know. I’m going to make myself a promise to go there someday.”

Among Argabrite’s teammates on that 1975 team were Curtis Strange and Jay Haas. Strange went on to win two U.S. Open championships and make a name for himself as an outspoken TV announcer while Haas has had a spectacular career as a pro golfer as well.

“Curtis was responsible for that picture,” said Argabrite, now a 66-year-old corporate lawyer. “That’s how he is. For all of his success, he really played for the team. He wanted to win and wanted to beat everybody, but not for himself. It was for the team.”

Wake Forest also won the 1974 national title, coming from behind to beat favored Florida on the final day. The 1975 team won by an NCAA-record 33 strokes.

“The thing I remember is how well we got along with each other,” Argabrite said. “There was a lot of camaraderie and good friendship. Coach (Jesse) Haddock made it very clear we weren’t playing for ourselves. We were playing for Wake Forest.”

The strength of the team was its depth. In addition to Strange and Haas, two of the best college golfers of the time who each won an NCAA individual title, the team usually got low scores from the bottom of the lineup, something most college teams struggle to find.

“Curtis was always very generous to point that out,” Argabrite said. “If we won a tournament by 15 shots, we would basically make up 12 of those at the fourth, fifth and sixth player levels. Curtis always went out of his way to point that out — so did Jay — which was nice for me to hear because that’s where I usually played.”

That 1975 team won nine tournaments and ran away with the Atlantic Coast Conference title and NCAA championship.

“We had a lot of individuals who in their own right were very talented in what was really an individual sport,” Argabrite said. “There’s plenty of opportunity for egos and selfishness, but Coach Haddock did a good job of managing that.”

After college, Argabrite kept playing at a high level. He won the Tennessee State Amateur in 1979 and the State Open in 1980, making him the second golfer to hold both titles at the same time. The legendary Mason Rudolph was the first.

The thought of playing professional golf crossed Argabrite’s mind from time to time, but the closest he ever came was to request the application the PGA required for someone to turn pro. It wound up sitting on his desk having never been filled out.

“I just felt like I never really wanted to do that,” he said. “My wife and I were starting a family and I was really happy with what I was doing with my first job in Nashville. I don’t ever remember agonizing over it.”

As Argabrite got older and his game remained competitive — he kept winning tournaments, including three of the early East Tennessee Amateurs — he started to change his thinking.

“I never thought about trying to play on the Senior Tour when I was 50,” he said. “But when I was 44, I remember thinking if I was 50 at that time, I might have tried it. I remember thinking that I must be one of the few people that wants to be six years older.”

This week, Argabrite will be playing in a tournament he knows well, the 71st Ridgefields Invitational. He’s won it four times and finished second eight others. In addition, he’s won the Senior Division three times.

“I’ve been playing, but I haven’t played any tournaments,” he said. “My game is kind of inconsistent. It seems like each round I manage to make a few silly mistakes. I attribute it to be not being really completely focused, not having steady concentration. I’ve played a few good rounds this spring and early summer. We’ll see how it goes. It always comes down to putting.”

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