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John Garrity
September 04, 1989
King-sized Chris Patton looked good winning the Amateur
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September 04, 1989

High, Wide And Handsome

King-sized Chris Patton looked good winning the Amateur

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Until Sunday, the East Course at Merion Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia was hallowed ground—the site of 14 previous USGA championships, the shrine where Bobby Jones completed his Grand Slam in 1930, the vale of tears where Ben Hogan came back from a bloody car wreck to win the 1950 U.S. Open. Henceforth, Merion will also be remembered as the place where a college senior built like Refrigerator Perry won the 89th U.S. Amateur, beating a balding Tennessean in shorts with a swing so ugly that birds stopped chirping to watch.

The new champion is Chris Patton, 21, a 6'1", 300-pound Clemson University All-America (golf, not football) from Fountain Inn, S.C., who was playing in his first Amateur. By dispatching 32-year-old confessed golf bum Danny Green, 3 and 1, in Sunday's 36-hole final, Patton proved that a golfer casting a giant shadow could play in the shadows of giants. "I don't think I could walk in the footsteps of Bobby Jones," the shy, soft-spoken champion demurred afterward. "That's a little over my head."

Green proved something too—that a former University of Tennessee at Martin tennis player with a three handicap and a bowler's follow-through could play, period. "As you've noticed, I have my own way of doing things," Green said last Saturday.

Actually, he did pretty well for a golfer whose posture at address called to mind someone trying to pry open a manhole cover with a rake. "The first time I saw myself on TV," Green admitted, "I turned to a buddy and said, 'I'm a disgrace to the game of golf.' "

It was no disgrace to lose to Patton, whose success until now has come mainly in collegiate events. Patton's toughest test on the way to the final was a third-round match against Mike Podolak that went two extra holes.

Green's big scare came in Saturday morning's quarterfinals when he let local favorite Jay Sigel, a two-time Amateur champion, three-time Mid-Amateur champion and seven-time Walker Cupper, wriggle out of a dormie situation on the last two holes of regulation. Sigel's drive on the first extra hole came to rest in a fairway divot, and he couldn't reach the green with his pitch. Green, with a crisp pitch to six feet, won the hole, the match and the respect of Sigel, who said, "Somebody said he's a street fighter, and I have to agree with that."

In Saturday afternoon's semis, Patton rid the tournament of giant-killer Michael Brannan. A reinstated amateur who briefly played the PGA Tour, Brannan had knocked out two Walker Cuppers, Eoghan O'Connell of Ireland and David Eger of Florida, the reigning Mid-Amateur champ. O'Connell led the 36-hole medal-play qualifying with a 137 but struggled with his swing and, like most of the Walker Cuppers at Merion, seemed golfed out.

In the other semifinal, Green survived a back-nine surge by 30-year-old Jerry Courville and won 2 up. Courville, whose bag was toted by his father, Jerry Sr., a quarter-finalist in the 1974 Amateur, conceded that he had never seen a swing quite like Green's. But he was quick to say, "It doesn't matter what it looks like, it's what you do with it."

Sunday's final began with Patton and Green halving the first 10 holes, but the easy-swinging Patton won three holes on the back side and finished the morning round 3 up. After Patton lunched on a turkey sandwich and watermelon—"I don't eat much at any one meal, but I can eat a full meal every hour," he said—he digested victory, closing out Green on the par-3 17th when the Tennessean's two-iron plugged unplayably under the lip of a greenside bunker.

Patton grew up driving a tractor on his family's 300-acre farm and taught himself to play golf at age 13 because he was "bored to death." Asked what he knew about fabled Merion before last Sunday, he said sheepishly, "I knew it was in Ardmore, Pennsylvania."

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