James slowly developed his game under his father’s tutelage and eventually beat him for the first time when he was 14.
“I think back to how he’s grown [as a player] and how much farther he hit it every year,” said Philip, who has competed in 20 USGA championships, including six U.S. Amateurs. “Then finally he was hitting it by me. I was happy because that’s the way it is supposed to happen.”
Philip Pleat got his start in the game as a caddie at Portland Country Club in Falmouth, Maine. He also caddied at the Maine Open, which through the years attracted professionals such as 1970 U.S. Amateur champion Lanny Wadkins and Jim Dent. Pleat often carried for former University of Houston All-American John Mills.
Pleat grew up playing Riverside Golf Course, a municipal layout in Portland, where Mike “Fluff” Cowan served as the assistant superintendent. Philip learned a lot playing in the evenings with Cowan, who has gone on to notoriety as the caddie for Peter Jacobson, Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk. Philip would go on to play at the University of New Hampshire.
In 1978, Philip qualified for his first USGA championship, making it to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur Public Links, which was played at Bangor (Maine) Municipal Golf Course. He would qualify for several U.S. Amateurs and U.S. Mid-Amateurs while raising two children – his daughter, Jennie, played high school golf and was a Division III basketball player at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. Pleat’s greatest USGA success would come in 2011, when he reached the final of the USGA Senior Amateur at Kinloch G.C. in suburban Richmond, Va., losing, 1 down, to Louis Lee.
He was the second New Hampshire golfer to lose a USGA final in 2011, joining U.S. Junior runner-up Chelso Barrett, of Keene, who lost to now three-time USGA champion and three-time major champion Jordan Spieth.
Knowing that he had earned exemptions into several USGA championships for 2012 with his 2011 Senior Am runner-up finish, Philip wasn’t sure if he wanted to compete against the young talent at the Amateur. His last U.S. Amateur appearance had been 15 years earlier at Cog Hill in Lemont, Ill., and he had never qualified for match play in his five Amateurs.
Something told him to enter the championship. After all, it was being held at Cherry Hills, where he had played his first Amateur. All that history was too good to pass up. And when Philip caddied for James at his qualifier, his decision more than paid off.
What could be better than spending a few days at the U.S. Amateur with your son also in the field?
Balancing work and golf while raising two children, it has been a challenge for Philip to stay competitive, but he credits wife Lisa for her understanding and support.
James, an economics major at Dartmouth, hopes this won’t be the last time he and his father tee it up together in a USGA championship. (The two qualified for the 3 rd U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club.) At the moment, he doesn’t have plans to play the game professionally. Ideally, he would like to stay in New England and remain competitive in amateur golf.
James would love to emulate what his father has achieved.
“It’s a game for a lifetime,” said Philip. “It’s special.”
Added James: “I would love to be able to play … in this tournament as many times as I can.”
Perhaps someday James can carry his father’s legacy and play in a future USGA championship with his own son.
It would be fitting if it came at Cherry Hills.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.