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Dan Jenkins
June 28, 1976
Hitting a heroic iron out of the rough on the final hole, the lean 22-year-old became the youngest man to win the U.S. Open championship since Jack Nicklaus in 1962
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June 28, 1976

You Were Great, Jerry Pate

Hitting a heroic iron out of the rough on the final hole, the lean 22-year-old became the youngest man to win the U.S. Open championship since Jack Nicklaus in 1962

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Having been a bit sensitive about winning the U.S. Amateur at match play, and having lost four matches in the Walker Cup when he had been expected to carry the load for the good old U.S.A., Pate couldn't wait to speak to some of the USGA officials he knew when he walked off the 72nd hole.

"I guess this proves a match-play guy can't play golf," Pate said, with considerable satisfaction.

It has to be said of Pate that he has one of the best swings on the tour, not totally unlike that of Johnny Miller, who, incidentally, has now taken one fewer major championship than Pate. The Jean Georgian goes at the ball with beautiful rhythm and a high finish, and the amateur Vinny Giles, who serves as a financial adviser to several of the better young pros, was saying Sunday evening, "He's always had the best swing I'd ever seen on a young player. Jerry oozed success the first time I laid eyes on him."

As Pate took his triumphant stroll to the last green, under the care of USGA officials, he had only a moment of doubt about the outcome. "Are you sure I've got two putts to win?" he kept asking Harry Easterly, the USGA president. Yes, the leaderboard was correct.

To which Pate said, "Well, I can make the putt, anyhow."

Every so often the U.S. Open goes to a strange new place and thus it takes on a strange quality. The Atlanta Athletic Club, as a venue, was expected to be similar to Bellerive in St. Louis, to Champions in Houston and to Hazeltine in Minneapolis, places where the championship was won by two foreigners and a guy who putted cross-handed. From the start the tournament did not have the classic Open look or atmosphere.

For one thing, the AAC looks more like a modern resort hotel than the traditional country club with proper aging. It was weird to see the USGA committeemen in their blue coats, white shirts, striped ties and armbands wandering around at a place where, through various clumps of trees, one could find a health spa, tennis facilities and an aquatic center. The club is located about 25 miles from downtown Atlanta, close to an hour's driving time, depending on how many wrong freeway exits you take. If it was true that the Open went there because of a last request by Bobby Jones, he surely must have made it before everyone in and around Atlanta owned three cars and his native city was expanding daily toward the Atlantic Ocean.

It was also the first Open in history where the golf course had three defending architects. The front nine, looking nothing like the back as it sat on something of a treeless prairie, was designed by Joe Finger. The back nine, looking similar to the Augusta National, was designed by Robert Trent Jones, and both nines had been redone for the Open by George Fazio. The overall result was an Open course the pros despised, but of course there was nothing new about that. Unless they have several par-5s they can reach with drives and 5-irons, they tend to get testy.

All of the absurd complaining last week after the first round was mostly about a fourth of an inch of grass. Suddenly, according to such astute golfing authorities as Hale Irwin and Don January and J. C. Snead, it had become the "Fly Lie" Open. A fly lie or a scooter or whatever they choose to call it is that thing in golf where the ball is not sitting on a perfectly nurtured and finely clipped patch of turf, something akin to gently hardened cashmere, and it then flies or scoots and doesn't go as close to the pin as the players believe it should when met by the clubhead.

You would have thought the pros were talking about weeds or sunflowers on the side of a highway instead of the fairways on Thursday, fairways that had accidentally not been mowed as closely as the USGA desired. The explanation was that the new mowers had not been set properly. The fairways were supposed to have been cut to a half-inch in length but, according to the USGA, the mowers had evilly cut them to only three-quarters of an inch.

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