JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Jerry Pate admits that it’s hard to believe it has been 40 years since he accomplished the feat that changed his life: winning the 1974 U.S. Amateur Championship.
"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 Club:
- Traveled to Scotland (Walker Cup) and the Dominican Republic (World Amateur Team Championship) to help the USA win prominent international team competitions
- Established a relationship with legendary University of Alabama football coach Paul Bear Bryant
- Earned first-team All-America honors at Alabama
- Was low amateur at the 1975 U.S. Open at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club
- Finished first at PGA Tour qualifying school
- Won the 1976 U.S. Open at Atlanta Athletic Club’s Highlands Course
- Won the 1976 Canadian Open
- Was 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 aligned.
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 focus.
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."
Players’ Reception Notes
- To 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.
- Pate 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.
- Pate 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 and integrity.
Pete Kowalski is the USGA’s director of championship communications. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.