Just as it happened with Ben Crenshaw six years before him, Jerry Pate’s first trip to a USGA competition on a classic Northeast golf course impacted his life in numerous ways.
Although Crenshaw did not win the 1968 U.S. Junior Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., his run to the quarterfinals on the 17-time USGA host site spurred a fascination with the game’s history and architecture. The two-time Masters champion went on to a renowned design career with partner Bill Coore that has produced dozens of courses that have resonated with golfers and architecture aficionados alike.
Pate won the 1974 U.S. Amateur at The Ridgewood Country Club, completing one of the most impressive match-play runs in history in his championship debut. The most stunning aspect of that week in Paramus, N.J., to Pate is how it continues to resonate so strongly in his post-playing career.
“It was like being in heaven as a kid from Alabama and northwest Florida,” said Pate, 68, of Birmingham, Ala. “I had never seen a golf course like that, so just the honor of playing on such a great test was like a dream to me. It springboarded my entire career.”
After winning that U.S. Amateur, Pate was chosen by the USGA to represent his country in the World Amateur Team Championship (WATC). Pate led his team to victory in 1974 at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, and all these years later, Pate’s friendship with the resort’s owner, Alfy Fanjul, and late Hall of Fame designer Pete Dye led to him succeeding Dye as the consultant for course design and agronomy for the five layouts at Casa de Campo, a three-time host of the Latin America Amateur Championship, which the USGA helps to conduct.
“I remember coming here and seeing what a great piece of strategy that Tillinghast laid on the ground,” said Pate as he walked Ridgewood on Thursday during the U.S. Amateur’s Round of 16. “After I got onto the PGA Tour, my second tournament in 1976 was the Bing Crosby Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and I was randomly paired with Alfy Fanjul. He went on to buy Casa de Campo in 1984, and that same year he flew me down to the “Teeth of the Dog” course to play it with Pete.”
Pate noted that Alice Dye, a two-time U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion and Pete’s wife and design partner, insisted that Pate take charge of the courses there five years ago, when Pete Dye began suffering from the dementia that claimed his life in 2020, noting to Pate that “You know these courses better than anybody.” Pate had begun his own design career in the late 1970s, working with several established architects.
Perhaps none of this would have happened if Pate hadn’t captured the U.S. Amateur at age 20, a victory that required eight match-play wins over a who’s who of renowned career amateurs and future professionals. Pate defeated Walker Cup players Ed Tutwiler and William “Bill” Campbell, as well as college standouts Bob Young, Beau Baugh, George Burns, Keith Fergus, Curtis Strange and, in the final, John Grace Jr.
Pate went on to win the 1974 WATC with teammates Burns, Strange and Gary Koch, and the 1975 Walker Cup Match at St. Andrews with that trio as well as Campbell, Grace, Vinny Giles, Jay Haas, Craig Stadler and Dick Siderowf, who partnered with Pate that week and became a lifelong friend.
“Dick and I talk just about every day,” said Pate of Siderowf, 85, a two-time British Amateur champion who played on four Walker Cup Teams and captained one, and also competed in two WATCs. Siderowf was among the group who attended a Friday reunion of players from the 1974 U.S. Amateur, which was organized by Ridgewood member David Repetto, who caddied in the championship.
Pate went on to win the 1976 U.S. Open at Atlanta Athletic Club at age 22, sealing his victory with a 5-iron shot from the rough over a fronting pond to within 2 feet of the hole. He posted 11 top-10 finishes in his 39 major championship starts, but shoulder injuries dogged his career and he earned the last of his eight victories in 1982 at The Players Championship. Pate memorably capped his win by pushing Dye and PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman into the pond at TPC Sawgrass, then diving in after them.
As a rising senior at the University of Alabama in 1974, Pate managed to overcome not only the stellar field at Ridgewood, but also an equipment issue that he only discovered later.
“I was trailing the final match, 1 down, after 18 holes and during the lunch break, I received a telegram from coach Bear Bryant wishing me good luck,” said Pate, still speaking reverentially of one of college football’s most legendary coaches. “Even though I didn’t know Coach Bryant, he was also our athletic director at Alabama, so it was quite an honor. I put the telegram in my bag for luck, and went out and lost the first two holes of the afternoon to go 3 down.”
Pate was coming off a summer that included a victory in the Florida Amateur as well as strong performances in several top amateur events. But one week before he left for the Amateur, he drove a golf cart that held his clubs under a rope lining the path. The shafts of his three woods – driver, 3-wood and 4-wood – were broken, and when they were reshafted, unbeknownst to Pate, the shafts were extra stiff, not his typical flex. Unlike today’s technology, there was little sophistication in club materials and composition nearly 50 years ago.
“The clubs were heavier, and the driver was hanging back due to the stiff flex,” said Pate. “I couldn’t figure out why my drives kept hanging out to the right. I had a beautiful Toney Penna driver, but I drove it poorly all week and I was lucky to recover from some of those tee shots. I didn’t find out about the shafts until a week or two later.”
Indeed, a New York Times story about the 1974 championship noted that Pate “kept hitting tee shots way offline, but escaped time and again.” Pate rallied to defeat Grace, making birdies on the 33rd and 34th holes and closing out the match, 2 and 1, with a half on the 35th hole.
Another bonus of Pate’s victory was the chance to meet Hall of Fame player Byron Nelson, a one-time assistant at Ridgewood who was an analyst for ABC-TV that week. Pate had been the standard-bearer for Nelson when “Lord Byron” played an exhibition match in Pate’s hometown of Aniston, Ala., years before. Pate went on to work as a TV analyst for nearly 15 years, including a return to Ridgewood in 1990, when he covered Lee Trevino’s two-stroke victory over Jack Nicklaus in the U.S. Senior Open.
Now, Pate is back on the grounds again, reliving a week that changed his life forever.
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.