NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Patrick Tallent was in full scramble mode Wednesday afternoon.
And it had nothing to do with his ball-striking.
Moments after shaking hands and accepting congratulatory messages for defeating Rick Cloninger, 3 and 1, to reach his second U.S. Senior Amateur final in four years, Tallent was seeking residency. The hotel where he was staying for the championship didn’t have any rooms left Wednesday night. Tallent had already extended his stay one night, but his options had run out.
One of the volunteers heard his plight and offered Tallent and his wife a free room in his home.
His lodging secured, the only thing Tallent, 61, of Vienna, Va., has to worry about now is Bryan Norton, his opponent in Thursday’s 18-hole final at Big Canyon Country Club.
Heck, on Saturday, it looked like Tallent might not even qualify for match play. But he played his final 26 holes in 2 under par and then advanced out of a 15-for-13 playoff Monday morning. Five victories later, the No. 60 seed has landed on the verge of a USGA title.
That’s great isn’t it? said Tallent, who was the top seed and medalist in 2010 when he lost to Paul Simson, 2 and 1, at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando, Fla. It’s been four years. That’s great.
The journey has actually been a lot longer than that. Tallent grew up in rural Kentucky, where young boys focused on putting a ball through a hoop, not into a 4¼-inch hole. Tallent played golf on a nine-hole course, but his first love was basketball, and he earned a Division I scholarship to George Washington University, where he was an All-America guard.
The school’s golf team also needed players, so when Tallent was a freshman, then-player-coach Gene Mattare recruited him. Mattare is now the director of golf/general manager of Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa., site of last week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur. Once basketball season ended in early March, Tallent would join the golf team. Back then, there wasn’t a fall season, so he could play both sports.
Gene drafted me and I was his roommate, said Tallent. I wasn’t real good.
On the hardwood, Tallent was a stellar shooter – think Jimmer Fredette or Steve Kerr – in the days before the 3-point line. The Washington Bullets (now Wizards) drafted him in the sixth round of the 1976 NBA Draft. At training camp, he outperformed Clem Haskins, a 14-year veteran, and might have made the team, if Jimmy Jones had not come over from the Denver Nuggets in the dispersal draft when the American Basketball Association folded. Jones had a no-cut contract, and although he had bad knees that forced him to retire two weeks into the exhibition season, Jones was kept on the roster and the 6-foot-3 Tallent was cut. Coach Dick Motta chose Bobby Weiss to be the 12th man when Jones retired rather than bringing back Tallent.
They didn’t have the 3-point line [in the NBA] and I was a really good shooter, said Tallent. I was much better than Kevin Grevey or Mike Riordan, who both made the team. They were both bigger than me. In those days in the NBA, you could hand-check as long as you kept your elbow bent. Mike Riordan was so strong, he could push me around like a puppet.
Tallent actually made more per-diem money – $16,000 total for training camp – than he did as a young accountant at Price Waterhouse ($13,000 after taxes) in 1976. But it was while working at Price Waterhouse that his golf game flourished. In 1980, colleague Charlie Zink, now the co-chief operating officer of the PGA Tour, convinced Tallent to join Congressional Country Club as a junior member.
You just had to get five members to sponsor you, he said. All the partners at Price Waterhouse were members at Congressional, so we walked around partner’s row [at the office] and got them to sign my application. I was a member in three months.
By the mid-1980s, Tallent was competing for club championships, mostly against Washington, D.C. attorney Jack Vardaman, who later become a USGA Executive Committee member. Tired of constantly losing to Vardaman, Tallent vowed to improve, and by 1987, he qualified for his first U.S. Amateur. Four years later, he again qualified for the Amateur and made match play. He did it again in 1992, ’93, ’94 and ’95. That same year, the U.S. Mid-Amateur came to Caves Valley in Owings Mills, Md., and Tallent attempted to qualify. He reached the Round of 16 before losing to eventual champion Jerry Courville Jr.
This year’s U.S. Senior Amateur is Tallent’s 27th USGA championship. He was exempt for the 2011 U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur, but turned them down due to shoulder issues. Besides, he had no desire to play at Erin Hills (the U.S. Amateur site), a course that measured well over 7,500 yards.
Tallent isn’t a power player. In fact, he’ll tell you there’s nothing spectacular about his game. But he understands match play and how to wear down opponents by not making critical mistakes. In his first-round win over No. 5 seed Chip Lutz, he made five birdies in the first seven holes and held on for a 1-up win. He only made one birdie in his semifinal win over Cloninger, but down the stretch when it mattered, he made pars when his opponent made bogeys.
Anyone who can stand on a free-throw line with thousands of fans screaming in their ears understands what it’s like to be in a pressure-cooker. Tallent felt that pressure many times as a collegiate basketball player, especially in hostile places such as West Virginia or Maryland, where he played against All-American John Lucas, the No. 1 pick of the 1976 draft.
On Thursday morning, he’ll step into that arena once again.
And Tallent is hoping his only worry come the end of the round will be where to display the trophy back in his Virginia home.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.