“It brings back a lot of
fond memories,” Pate said. “I still feel like I’m 35 years old now that I’m 60.
I enjoy being around the game and the game keeps me young.”
Pate, then a gangly collegian
from the University of Alabama, began what he calls ‘quite a ride for a
22-year-old.’” Here are just some of the accomplishments and honors that Pate
achieved in less than two years after that victory at Ridgewood (N.J.) Country
to Scotland (Walker Cup) and the Dominican Republic (World Amateur Team
Championship) to help the USA win prominent international team competitions
a relationship with legendary University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant
first-team All-America honors at Alabama
low amateur at the 1975 U.S. Open at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club
first at PGA Tour qualifying school
the 1976 U.S. Open at Atlanta Athletic Club’s Highlands Course
the 1976 Canadian Open
the 1976 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year
That’s a formidable list
for the son of a Coca-Cola business executive who planned on following in his
father’s footsteps at the beverage giant.
“I was really virtually
unknown in the amateur world when I qualified for the U.S. Amateur in
Jacksonville in ’74,” said Pate.
Many more people would
soon know Pate’s name, as he defeated 1964 U.S. Amateur runner-up Ed Tutwiler,
George Burns, Keith Fergus, past champion Bill Campbell, 1974 NCAA champion
Curtis Strange in the semifinals and John Grace, 2 and 1, in final.
So it was appropriate
that the Macon, Ga., native addressed the field of 312 players two days before
the start of the 2014 U.S. Amateur Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, the
site of his U.S. Open victory. His message was direct and simple: follow the wisdom
of your mentors; be humble and appreciative; and keep your life’s priorities
Among Pate’s mentors were
his father, Bryant and his golf coach, Conrad Rehling, who made the Crimson Tide
a force in the Southeastern Conference and on the national scene.
Pate recalled his first
football trip as a guest of Bryant.
“I didn’t know what to
wear, so he told me to wear something lucky – like you wore when you won that
Amateur,” Pate said. “So, I wore these red and white polyester pants, something
maybe Rickie Fowler would wear now.”
Pate’s time with Bryant
and Rehling steeled his relationship with the school. Pate’s son, Wesley,
played golf there and the practice facility in Tuscaloosa now bears Jerry’s name.
But the man who leaped
into the water (and pushed architect Pete Dye and PGA Commissioner Deane Beman
in first) after his final PGA Tour victory at The Players Championship in 1982,
knows that being part of a “we and a team” brings your life its stability and
Pate, who climbed into
the national spotlight with his U.S. Open win at AAC, had his career shortened
by shoulder injuries, so he set out to reach new goals, such as running his own
business. The residuals of the 5-iron shot he hit from the rough on the 72nd
hole to win his U.S. Open only last so long.
“I don’t have trophies
or medals in my house,” Pate said. “I learned that’s not how you are measured.”
pay tribute to golf’s quintessential amateur and nine-time USGA champion Bob
Jones, his grandson Bob Jones IV, a longtime AAC member, also spoke at the
players’ reception. With wit and anecdotes, he delighted the crowd by saying
that standing at the speaker’s podium with the Havermeyer Trophy set in front
of him was the closest he’d ever been to it. He also noted that his
grandfather’s calculated handicap was +7 and his father’s was +2, and both had
played in a national championship. He followed that by saying his handicap was
9.6 and he’d never played in a national championship and averred, “It is true
that the gene pool gets diluted over time.” He noted that a member of the Jones
family (which included his great grandfather and grandfather who served as club
president) has maintained a continuous AAC membership since 1902.
on winning the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open: “I think there have been seven
people who have won both of them, so it’s a pretty big accomplishment. I’ve
been hurt on and off with the Senior Tour. I had a couple of good rounds in the
Senior Open in the past 10 years, but I really wanted to win the Senior Open
since only [Jack] Nicklaus and [Arnold] Palmer have won the Senior Open and
Amateur and U.S. Open. It would have
been a fun thing to do.”
tied all of his comments together by calling the Bob Jones Award, the USGA’s
highest honor, the biggest prize in golf because it was based on sportsmanship
Pete Kowalski is the USGA’s director of
championship communications. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.