U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Ex-Superintendent Jett Sees Game Take Off After Career Switch
August 24, 2019 | Durham, N.C.
By David Shefter, USGA
There was a time when Paul Jett routinely prepared for some of the game’s biggest championships. That list included two U.S. Opens and a U.S. Amateur as well as the prestigious North & South Amateur, held annually at the Pinehurst Resort & Country Club for men, women, juniors and seniors.
But these days, Jett, 55, of Southern Pines, N.C., prepares very differently. He isn’t concerned about rough heights, green speeds or firmness, hole locations or water usage – at least from an agronomic perspective.
This week at Old Chatham Golf Club, Jett is focused on his short game and keeping his drives in the fairway. For the first time in his career, the native of Irmo, S.C., will be playing in a USGA championship instead of maintaining the golf course.
Ever since he first attempted to qualify for the U.S. Amateur back as a Clemson University freshman, Jett has dreamed of this day. It didn’t happen when he tried for the U.S. Senior Open after turning 50.
But something magical happened on July 22 at Lexington (S.C.) Country Club in his first year of eligibility for the Senior Amateur. Jett shot 68 to garner one of the four available berths.
Ironically, Lexington is where Jett first got his start in the golf industry and fell in love with agronomy. He worked on the maintenance staff through his teenage years before he earned a degree in turf management from Clemson and embarked on a career that took him to one of the country’s iconic venues.
“I struck gold. I think I found my number,” said Jett of turning 55, the minimum age for the Senior Amateur.
Ever since the USGA announced the 2019 U.S. Senior Amateur would be going to Old Chatham, Jett had the championship circled on his competitive calendar. He turned 55 on July 7, making him eligible to play in an event being contested in his adopted home state.
Since departing Pinehurst in the spring of 2010 and taking a sales job for Triangle Chemical – he sells fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides and herbicides to golf courses – Jett finally has more time to develop his own game. Some might believe golf course superintendents have plenty of free time to play, but that is a myth. Overseeing a venue like Pinehurst No. 2 was a seven-day-a-week endeavor, especially when the course was preparing for USGA championships. Jett was around for the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens and 2008 U.S. Amateur.
Switching to sales has provided Jett more time to play and practice. In the last two to three years, he’s devoted his attention to his short game, specifically his putter.
And he’s seen the results at his home club, Mid-South Golf Club in Southern Pines, as well as other competitions in the Carolinas.
“I’ve improved steadily the past couple of years,” said Jett, who now annually puts 40,000 miles on his truck for his sales calls. “I certainly have more time to work on my game. My weekends are free to play as opposed to managing a golf course.”
Jett, the youngest player in this year’s U.S. Senior Amateur, was a high school champion in South Carolina and walked on the golf team at Clemson as a freshman. But that’s where his competitive career came to a screeching halt. He quickly realized his game didn’t match up to the uber-talented scholarship players at the school.
“As much as you want to comb the archives of old [Clemson] golf matches in the early 1980s, you will never find my name,” said Jett. “They gave me a bag. They gave me all the balls I could lose and all the gloves that I could wear out. That was my college golf experience. After my freshman year, I said I’m never going to play so I’m going to do something else.”
Jett chose to focus on growing grass instead of hitting from it. It turned out to be a good career move. After graduating from Clemson in 1986, he landed an assistant superintendent’s position at Pinehurst, working on Courses 1 and 4. Two years later, he was promoted to superintendent of those courses. Then in 1990, the Duke University Golf Course in Durham, N.C., offered him a chance to oversee the operation. During that time, he assisted course architect Rees Jones with a renovation.
That friendship would be rekindled when Pinehurst came calling again in 1995, this time as the superintendent of Course No. 2. During that time, Jones did a renovation to prepare for the 1999 U.S. Open, the first for the resort. Jett also worked closely with then-USGA championship agronomist Tim Moraghan as well as the setup team, headed by Tom Meeks and assisted by Mike Davis.
“It was fabulous,” said Jett. “For a golf course superintendent, that’s the top of the mountain when you can prepare a golf course for a national championship. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
But his most vivid memory of that week was standing behind the 18th green as Payne Stewart stood over an 18-foot par putt. His immediate thought was what if Stewart misses and there’s a Monday 18-hole playoff? He would have to round up all of his maintenance staff to begin preparations for the extra day of golf. Never mind that Stewart was about to strike one of the most iconic putts in championship history. Jett was thinking like a superintendent, not a casual spectator.
Jett, however, never had to worry about Monday golf. Stewart made the putt and his championship pose is immortalized with a bronze statue not far from where he made history.
Six years later, he helped oversee another successful U.S. Open, this time won by Michael Campbell. As for a second go-around, Jett was well-versed in the USGA’s needs. Only in 2005, the weather wasn’t so cooperative leading into the week.
“We were struggling to grow the requested height of rough,” he recalled. “Eventually, we got there. But it certainly presented a challenge.”
While Jett may have departed from Pinehurst in 2010, he still makes his home in the North Carolina Sandhills. “It’s a great area to live if you love to play golf,” he said.
Now nine years removed from that position, few people even know Jett once was the superintendent at Pinehurst. One player at his qualifier brought it to his attention, and he believes many won’t know his back story at the Senior Amateur. He actually prefers to play in complete anonymity. His support at the championship will come from his wife, oldest son, Ryan (26) who lives in Durham, and his caddie, longtime friend Lee Hancock. His 23-year-old son Davis likely won’t be there.
“I’m proud of what we were able to do during the almost 15 years I was there,” said Jett.
Now he’s looking for a different kind of memory in North Carolina.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.