Sports

US Open countdown: Young Jerry Pate stages fantastic finish for his first pro victory

76th U.S. Open | June 17-20, 1976

Atlanta Athletic Club’s Highlands Course, Atlanta, Ga.

Leaderboard

Jerry Pate, United States 71 - 69 - 69 - 68 277
Al Geiberger, United States 70 - 69 - 71 - 69 279
Tom Weiskopf, United States 73 - 70 - 71 - 69 279
Butch Baird, United States 71 - 71 - 71 - 67 280
John Mahaffey, United States 70 - 68 - 69 - 73 280

Many in professional golf thought this was the beginning for the talented, well-decorated Jerry Pate, 22, who solidified his victory at the national open with a near-perfect approach shot at the finishing hole.

With four golfers in contention to win, all of them hit their tee shots at the left-curling 460-yard 18th hole, a par 4, into the thick right rough.

In the earlier pairing, Al Geiberger and Tom Weiskopf made the conservative decision to lay up in front of a protruding pond protecting the green, hit short wedge shots on the green and save par to get into the clubhouse trailing by one shot.

Pate and John Mahaffey — the overnight leader who once led the championship by six shots in the third round — decided to go for broke.

Now trailing Pate by one stroke, Mahaffey felt as if he had to. But his 5-wood approach never had enough steam coming out of the long grass, and his golf ball plopped into a watery grave.

Just needing to make a par to win, Pate went for the green from 195 yards. And he ripped a 5-iron pin high, and sank the 3-foot putt for birdie to win by two shots.

“It was my chance to be a hero,” Pate told reporters afterward.

Pate was seen as a superstar in the making. He won the 1974 U.S. Amateur as an All-American at Alabama. The next year, he was the low amateur at the U.S. Open — that made this U.S. Open his first professional victory.

Later that season, he won the Canadian Open, and was voted the PGA Tour rookie of the year.

But Pate would be hampered by shoulder injuries, which curtailed his career.

The Georgia native did have one more big victory in him: He won the inaugural Tournament Players Championship (now known as The Players Championship) in 1982. After that win, he celebrated by throwing TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course designer Pete Dye into the lake off the 18th green.

Pate later served as a color commentator for ABC and CBS Sports, and the BBC.

todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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