Bobby Pope

Pate is Macon’s tie to U.S. Open

The 117th U.S. Open men’s golf tournament begins Thursday in Erin, Wisconsin at Erin Hills, with Dustin Johnson back to defend his title when he won by three shots at the Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania.

Georgia has hosted just one U.S. Open Championship, and that came in 1976 when Macon native Jerry Pate, a 22 year old rookie on the PGA tour, captured the only major title of his career. He posted a 3-under-par score of 277 at the Highlands Course of the Atlanta Athletic Club in Duluth to beat Al Geiberger and Tom Weiskopf by two strokes.

Pate had a one-stroke lead going to 18, and on his second shot from the rough, using a five iron, landed three feet from the cup and made birdie to salt the tournament away.

Pate was born in Macon when his father worked for the Sherwin-Williams Paint Company, but he only lived in the city for about a year before the family was transferred to Anniston, Alabama and then to Pensacola, Florida when Jerry was 13.

His dad was a good amateur player, and was a member at Idle Hour during his time in Macon and played often with local golfing greats Arnold Blum and Alfred Sams Sr.

The 1976 U.S. Open has special significance for me. I got the opportunity to cover the event while working at WMAZ radio and television, and the U.S. Open got a check on my bucket list. I still have two events remaining on the list, the Kentucky Derby and Wimbledon. I mighty make the Derby one day, but Wimbledon is most unlikely.

I got the opportunity to meet Pate on a flight to Washington, D.C. in the late 1980s and found him to be a charming individual. We struck up a conversation and he invited me to play a round of golf at Shoal Creek in Birmingham with him. My golf game was too much of an embarrassment to even consider it.

Pate, who was plagued by injuries much of his career, won the 1974 U.S. Amateur title before turning pro a year later, winning eight times times on the PGA circuit. Three of those wins came in the state of his birth. Not only did he win the U.S. Open in Georgia, but he also took home two tour wins in Columbus when he captured the Southern Open at the Green Island Country Club in 1977 and 1978.

His other wins came at the Canadian Open in 1976, the Phoenix Open in 1977, the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic in 1981, the Pensacola Open in 1981 and his final victory came in the Tournament Players Championships in 1982, the first held at TPC Sawgrass. You may recall that following the victory in the Players, he threw course designer Pete Dye and PGA Tour chief Deane Beman into the lake adjacent to the 18th green, and then jumped in himself.

Pate recorded two wins on the Champions Tour, winning the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am in 2006 and the Turtle Bay Championship in 2008. He was PGA rookie of the year and PGA co-player of the year in 1976.

The 1976 Open champion is in Wisconsin for this week’s Open and was the featured speaker at the annual amateur dinner. Thirteen amateurs are in this year’s Open field. He also was the speaker at the first U.S. Open Champions dinner held at Pebble Beach in 2000.

Pate has deep southern roots. He was born in Georgia, grew up in Alabama and Florida, and attended Alabama, where he played college golf.

Today, he owns a golf cart and golf course design company named the Jerry Pate Company, with offices in Florida, Alabama and Atlanta.

Contact Bobby Pope at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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