jerry pate players championship

How Jerry Pate ignored the noise surrounding Sawgrass to win The Players

Jerry Pate embraced the heavily criticised TPC Sawgrass, plus a little bit of fate, to win The Players Championship as he told NCG’s Matt Chivers…


To say the home of The Players Championship came under fire in the first year of its hosting duties is a gross understatement.

Fuzzy Zoeller jokingly asked where the windmills and animals were, John Mahaffey questioned if you won a free game for holing a putt on 18 and Tom Watson speculated if it was “against the rules to carry a bulldozer in your bag.”

Even the first player to win the event at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass described it as “diabolical” when reminiscing about his memorable victory in 1982.

Despite countless gripes bursting through the grapevine, Jerry Pate embraced the site inspired by course designer Pete Dye and PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman while several big names fell by the wayside and succumbed to their frustrations.

“It was a diabolical course and I remember Jack’s (Nicklaus) quote,” Pate told NCG.

“They asked him, ‘Did he like it?’ And it was a very famous quote and he said, ‘It’s a great course if you like to hit a 6-iron for your approach shot and land it on the hood of a Volkswagen.

“You remember those old Volkswagens with the round hood? – I loved it because I was a great ball striker and I could really play great iron shots and I’m not bragging, it was factual, the players knew that, and I knew it.”

Stadium golf had arrived on the PGA Tour with its large collection areas, grassy hollows, undulating greens, mounds and huge water hazards.

Pate entered the final round in Ponte Vedra three shots behind Brad Bryant and his brother-in-law Bruce Lietzke. He charged in the final round, carding a 67 with a birdie on the instantly recognisable par-3 17th hole.

This was the fourth two he’d made on the island green that week which included one in the Wednesday Pro-Am. His famous birdie on the final hole with his orange ball contrasted his antics on the 18th on Saturday which saw a double-bogey put him on the back foot.

When speaking to Pate about the 1982 Players Championship, one of the first things you learn is that despite his excellence in the closing stretch helping him to victory, fate and higher powers were far more important in his eyes.

ALSO: Deane Beman talks to NCG!

“I only thought my success was about me. It’s not about me, it’s really about what God has in store for you,” he said.

“He has a plan for you today and I’m not preaching, because I went to church my whole life and I wasn’t one that ever talked about God or preached, but now at 70 years old, I realise he had me on this path.”

One of two moments during that week in Florida seemed to foreshadow what was to come. The first happened during the final round when the course designer’s wife caught up with Pate as he walked to the 13th tee box in the heat of battle.

“I had to walk back to the tee and I heard these little golf spikes going click, click, click back when you had metal studs in your shoes and it was Alice Dye, Pete Dye’s wife who I knew well,” Pate explained.

“She grabbed me by the arm and she said,’ You need to win this damn thing and throw Pete in the lake’ because Pete and Deane Beman were getting crucified as the golf course was so hard.

“If you go back and look at that field and see the Hall of Famers and the best players on the tour, pretty much all of them missed the cut (Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Trevino) and they were wanting to hang Deane Beman.

“They were talking about firing Deane and coming in and killing Pete and hiring somebody to come and fix the course and all the sentiment was, ‘We don’t need to own the course, we don’t need to be in the business to own a course’.”

Alice wasn’t disappointed as Pate carried out her orders in throwing Dye and Beman into the lake by the 18th green after securing victory by two shots, before joining them himself.

Jerry Pate: Players Championship trophy inspired by him

The second moment that tempted fate occurred before the tournament started. Beman invited a handful of players to a dinner on Tuesday before the event began which Pate and his wife Soozi attended.

The commissioner spoke to the room ahead of The Players Championship’s new dawn and invited the players to take a glance at the tournament trophy which featured a silhouette of a player at the Stadium Course which Pate immediately recognised.

“I got up from the table after dessert and I walked over to look at it, picked it up and it was a picture of a golfer and Waterford Crystal in Ireland had made the trophy,” he said.

ALSO: Players Championship 2024 tee times

“The Irish had made the trophy, and it had a carving of a golfer putting and behind the golfer were the big palm trees on the 18th green, so you could see the guy was putting on the 18th green.

“Guess who’s silhouette they used to do the putter and the golfer… I have a copy of my bubble gum card, and they used my card. “They had to use somebody, there were 200 golfers on the tour, and I was one of the up-and-coming young golfers, and they said they were going to use the guy putting.

“Here’s the card, we’ll use Jerry Pate and I never found out who the guy was who carved that – it makes me laugh.

“I have the trophy at my house, and I have the card sitting right next to the trophy and anybody would look at it and say, ‘Holy moly that was you!’ So, I saw the trophy and I walked back and sat down, and I told my wife, I said, ‘Soozi, you’ve got to get up and look at the trophy’. She said ‘What?’ I said. ‘It’s my silhouette carved on the trophy!’ She said, ‘No way!’

“She went and looked at it, and I told her on Tuesday, ‘I’m going to win this tournament’. I’m going to win it and sure enough I did.”

Pate won the US Open as a 22-year-old rookie in 1976, a tournament where golf fans were first introduced to his top ball-striking and fearless style.

From the rough, Pate fired a 5-iron to two feet over water on the 18th hole at Atlanta Athletic Club to seal victory by two shots. Try to spot the difference between this and his crowning moment at PGA Tour HQ six years later.

“I walked in that press room after throwing Deane and Pete into the water, doing the telecast with Pat Summerall, and they asked me one question which said, ‘Do you have any opening remarks?’

“I said ‘Yes’ – I said, ‘I guess I pulled another 5-iron’, because when I hit the 5-iron to two feet from the hole at the US Open as a rookie, everybody said no rookie would ever hit a 5-iron from 190 and hit it straight at the pin with water lurking around the front left side of the green.

“I had to live with that for about seven years, and when I won The Players, and birdied the 17th hole four out of five times, and then when I hit the 5-iron there, that was one of the great thrills of my life. It wasn’t a fluke.”

At both events, Pate joined an honours board littered with the game’s biggest names such as Nicklaus, Trevino and Floyd. It was these stars who became as green as the fairways with envy when the Pensacola native bagged a mammoth $90,000 winner’s cheque.

jerry pate players championship

ALSO: A brief history of The Players Championship

The $500,000 total purse was the largest in PGA Tour history to that point. In 361 starts on the circuit, Pate won $4,010,328. He’d topple that if he won the 2024 Players Championship.

“When Deane played for $90,000, he turned the notch up and I could remember when I won, I had the next couple of weeks of Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus, Floyd everybody saying, ‘I can’t believe you won $90,000′, because that was 50% more than $60,000,” he added.

“It doesn’t sound like much from $60,000 to $90,000 to a guy who’s flying on a private jet on the tour and he’s spending $400,000/$500,000 on his jet and he’s making $8 million.

“He can’t see $30,000 but in 1982, it would be like I won a tournament for $3 million and now they’re going to pay $4.5 million, that’s a big jump a million and half dollars – for us it was a huge amount of money.”

Pate certainly packed much into a career that was essentially done by his 30th birthday after a torn cartilage in his shoulder, followed by five surgeries in the next 20 years, ended his competitive days on the PGA Tour.

The 70-year-old has since turned his hand to golf course design across countless venues in America from Old Waverley which hosted the US Women’s Amateur Championship to Trump National in New Jersey.

His portfolio is vast and Pate has always kept a savvy business mind which was handed down by his grandparents and his father who all earned college degrees.

“I was a business guy with an artistic talent and that’s all I was – I was a business guy with an artistic flair for creating golf shots and creating golf courses.”

His career may have been cut short, but his chances of winning The Players were always substantial. His grandfather was a member of the Ponte Vedra Club in the 1930s and his father grew up playing golf in this area too.

His father’s friends Jerome and Paul Fletcher sold the 415-acre wetland to Beman which became TPC Sawgrass.

With all the negativity surrounding the venue, Pate put his head down instead of sticking the knife in and went on to a win title that was tailor-made for him.

“Somebody’s going to win, and I said hell, it’s going to be me.”

NOW READ: The perks of winning The Players Championship

NOW READ: Which players have had a hole-in-one at The Players Championship?

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Matt Chivers

Matt Chivers

Now on the wrong side of 25, Matt has been playing golf since the age of 13 and was largely inspired to take up the game by countless family members who played golf during his childhood.

Matt is a member at Royal Cinque Ports in Deal playing off a 5 handicap, just a pitching wedge away from his hometown of Dover where he went to school and grew up. He has previously been a member at Etchinghill and Walmer and Kingsdown in Kent.

Having studied history at the University of Liverpool, Matt went on to pass his NCTJ Exams in Manchester a year later to fulfil his lifelong ambition of becoming a journalist. He picked up work experience along the way at places such as the Racing Post, the Independent, Sportsbeat and the Lancashire Evening Post.

Matt joined NCG in February 2023 and is the website’s main source of tour news, features and opinion. He has reported live from events such as The Open, the Ryder Cup and The Players Championship, having also interviewed and spent time with some of the biggest names in the sport.

Consuming tour golf on what is a 24/7 basis, you can come to Matt for informed views on the game and the latest updates on the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, LPGA Tour, Ladies European Tour and LIV Golf.

What’s in Matt’s bag: Cobra LTDx LS driver, Cobra LTDx 3-wood, TaylorMade P7MC irons, Ping Glide 4.0 wedges, Odyssey putter.

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