U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
1989 U.S. Amateur Champ Patton Now Playing Role as Proud Father July 19, 2016 | Ooltewah, Tenn. By David Shefter, USGA

Chris Patton returned to a USGA championship as a proud father watching his son, Colby, play in his first U.S. Junior Amateur. (USGA/Rob Rabena)

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Chris Patton tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, peering out from trees and positioning himself far enough away from the action to not create a distraction.

The 1989 U.S. Amateur champion was in a different position at a USGA championship. Instead of competing, Chris Patton, 48, of Fountain Inn, S.C., was watching his youngest son, Colby, play in the 69th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at The Honors Course. It was Colby’s first USGA experience, something the elder Patton could fully understand.

But when Chris Patton competed at Merion Golf Club in 1989, his golf résumé was a bit stronger. Although that was his first USGA championship, Chris had been through the grind of three years of collegiate golf at Clemson University and had a better understanding of the competition he’d be facing that August in Ardmore, Pa.

“The year I won the Amateur was the first year I tried to qualify,” said Chris, who defeated Danny Green, of Jackson, Tenn., in the championship match. “I had three years of college golf behind me. I had played some quality golf courses at that point.

“This is a different deal for [Colby]. He doesn’t have that experience and he’s kind of star struck, feeling a little out of place and maybe a little intimidated. He’s not around the level of play, day in day out, like I was. I was around a bunch of guys my age who could really golf. I had competition growing up. He’s in a little different boat. There are some good players around home, but not what I had. He just doesn’t have that group of guys to push him.”

Colby had a solid round going on Monday until he closed with three consecutive bogeys to finish at 6-over-par 78 and in jeopardy of missing the match-play cut. Going into the championship, Chris knew this was going to be a major step up in competition for his 17-year-old rising high school senior. 

“Colby is pretty green to bigger golf,” said Chris, who won four times as a professional, including the 1993 Nike New Mexico Charity Classic on what is now the Web.com Tour. “He really just started competing last year in junior events. He was maybe a little overwhelmed when he first got here. I’m pretty sure this is the first time he’s ever got to see a big-ball park golf course. He’s got to get his feet wet and get the experience for himself.”

For Chris, being on-site at a USGA championship again brought back great memories from another era. Spectators and officials might not have even recognized him as he’s dropped more than 200 pounds from his days as an amateur and professional – he turned pro in 1990. While walking the grounds this week, he ran into University of Southern California coach Chris Zambri. The two hadn’t seen each other in years. Zambri ended Patton’s amateur career with an 8-and-6 first-round victory in the 1990 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club.

Chris is hoping Colby, who also plans to attend Clemson, can experience match play, which begins on Wednesday with the Round of 64. But even if he doesn’t, Chris is trying to be as supportive as he can as a parent without applying any additional pressure. After all, it’s not easy to follow in the footsteps of someone who won a USGA title.

“I try to keep myself out of it,” he said. “I try to make it all about him because this is his game, his life. The only thing that I try to do is encourage him and make him have an understanding of what it is he is going to have to acquire to be the level of player that he wants to be.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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