JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Danny Yates hasn’t played much golf in the last 10 years. A hip injury that has required three replacement procedures after an automobile accident has left the 1992 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and 1988 U.S. Amateur runner-up only a shell of the player he once was.
But you know golfers … we never give up, Yates said, a toothy grin crossing his still boyish face. I’m starting to come around.
Yates was seated in the clubhouse at Atlanta Athletic Club Sunday morning taking a few minutes to chat before going out to watch the final of the 114th U.S. Amateur between Gunn Yang of Korea and Corey Conners of Canada. Few people in attendance at the championship carry more heavyweight credentials than Yates, particularly in Georgia at this venue, which can claim Bob Jones as a founding influence.
An Atlanta native, Yates is the nephew of the late Charlie Yates, one of the true lions of Georgia golf. A member of AAC when it was located at East Lake – the club moved to its present location in 1967 – Charlie Yates was one of Jones’ closest friends. He was an accomplished golfer whose victories included the 1938 British Amateur Championship, and he was a longtime member of Augusta National Golf Club. A picture of the elder Yates and Jones hangs on a wall in the club dining room. Yates’ father, P. Dan Yates Jr., also was a fine player and a member at Augusta National.
All three Yates men won the Georgia State Amateur and are members of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, with the youngest of the trio, P. Dan Yates III, inducted in 1994.
Growing up playing amateur golf and being here at what is the home of Bobby Jones, who of course meant so much to amateur golf, this is a special week and a very special occasion for the club and the members, said Yates, 54, who is a member at East Lake and Peachtree Golf Club.
Yates has enjoyed a longtime relationship with the USGA, starting with the 1966 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at California Country Club in Whittier, Calif. You could tell that there was just a different feel about a USGA event, that it was a championship, he said. I’ll always remember, the blue hole markers with the stand that had the par and the yardage, that just suggested a specialness to the event.
Yates went on to have a sparkling amateur career that included berths on two Walker Cup Teams, in 1989 and ’93, a victory in the 1992 U.S. Mid-Amateur, and two turns as Walker Cup captain, in 1999 and 2001. He also was a member of the USA World Amateur Team in 1988.
That followed his best run in the U.S. Amateur earlier that year. Intent on playing in the 1989 Walker Cup at Peachtree Golf Club, Yates increased his summer tournament schedule, and he found his form at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., where he fell in the final, 7 and 6, to Eric Meeks.
Things just came together, and I hadn’t really won anything in years, Yates recalled. I just got better and things fell into place. I loved the Homestead. It had a great setting and feel, and the whole atmosphere put me in the right mind to play well. Until I got to the final, I played better than everyone I faced. Match play is a funny game. You just have to play better than the guy you’re playing. Then Eric played a lot better than I did.
Yates is still walking with a limp after the latest surgery on his right hip, but at least he is walking – and playing golf again. His doctor told him he is perhaps a year from a full recovery, but that doesn’t stop him from having high expectations when he ventures out to the golf course. Once you compete at a certain level, it’s difficult to accept mediocrity.
I have fun with it, but it is a little frustrating to play the way I play at the moment, said Yates. But I am getting to where I’m enjoying it again. For a while it wasn’t much fun. But when you hit some good shots, you start to think you can do it again. And I’m starting to think that way.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who writes frequently for USGA websites.