PENSACOLA, Fla. – The first winner of TPC Sawgrass, Jerry Pate is known for making a splash on the PGA Tour, literally. In a short span of time 1976 to 1982, Pate won eight times on the PGA Tour. And he made golf history by winning THE PLAYERS Championship in 1982.
"I could focus in for the 15, 20 seconds it took to hit a shot,” said Pate. “After it went in- it was just fun to me. And I think it aggravated a lot of people. Once I got on the PGA tour and won a couple of times- I thought you know this is silly to be so serious. This is entertainment. We're out here to show people how good we can play and we want to do it and have fun."
On the other side of amusement, for pro-golfer Jerry Pate, was affliction. After winning The PLAYERS Championship in 1982, within two months he tore the cartilage in his shoulder.
"I was hitting one irons and I was trying to knock one irons down because I really wanted in 1982 to play well at Troon, at the British Open," said Pate. “And I was coming into my own and I tore my cartilage. I didn't know how I was going to fix it. No one knew how to fix it. That was basically the end of my golfing career in one swing."
He wouldn't play again seriously for 20 years. Designing and building golf courses is something Pate got into early on. He started a company, Jerry Pate Design, surrounding a game he fell in love with as a child.
"Here's a picture of me at 10 years old with Arnold Palmer at the 1964 Memphis Open," said Pate during a stroll in time down the halls of his Pensacola office. "That was after I won the US Open. Don't you like those pants?"
That sense of humor, familiar smile and jovial personality made Pate an unforgettable figure in the game of golf.
"There's Deane Beman going into the lake and Pete Dye in Jacksonville," said Pate as he pointed to a black and white photo of the memorable moment following his historic win at TPC Sawgrass.
Pate had conquered a course known as "DYEabolical," with his signature orange ball. TPC Sawgrass was designed by Pete Dye, the dream of then PGA TOUR Commissioner, Deane Beman. It was a course so difficult it would challenge the greatest players in the world, a course Pate believes he was destined to overpower.
"They invited all of the players to go down and play the stadium course,” said Pate. “I think I was the only pro on the entire tour that showed up for the official soft-opening of the
Months before the first TPC Sawgrass, Pate was paired with Beman during that "soft-opening,” where he learned the ins and outs of what it would take to win.
"He said you want to drive it over here, Pete created all of these optics,” said Pate. “You look like you want to hit it here but you want to hit it there."
He hit his way to victory. And now 35 years later, Pate remains focused on being a champion on and off the course.
"I still like to compete I don't like to lose,” said Pate. “I like to win at anything. Whether it be pitching pennies against the wall, or shooting free throws, or playing ping pong, or shooting pool. I'm a competitor."
As for his PLAYERS trophy, he hasn't seen it in person in 35 years. Pate gave it to Hall Thompson at Shoal Creek Country Club, in Alabama where it's currently on display.
He's says he'll go pick it up one of these days.