If Pete Dye is the Leonardo of golf course architects, Jerry Pate is surely the Esther Williams of touring pros, and the two of them pooled their talents last week to elevate the Tournament Players Championship into one of golf's major events. Call it the game's fifth major if you like, or tell the PGA tournament to get lost in the land of teaching professionals, but the fact is, the player with the best swing and the most potential in the game today, Jerome K. Pate, went out and Ben Hoganed the daylights out of the most demanding new layout in the world today, winning the TPC against the toughest field you could have assembled today. And if all this doesn't make the TPC a major championship, then Jerry Pate, Tour Commissioner Deane Beman and Dye can't swim a stroke.
You knew Pate was going to do it. He had said he was going to do it. And he did it. He brought Dye's Tournament Players Club course to its knees the way Hogan once brought the Oakland Hills "monster" to its knees. And when he had done that, he flung Beman and Dye into the lake beside the 18th hole before diving in himself. Pate was more famous for a similar dive he made after winning the Memphis Classic a year ago than he was for winning the U.S. Open as a rookie in 1976 or the U.S. Amateur in 1974. And lately he had become better known on TV for using an orange golf ball than for his marvelously fluid swing and his quietly perfect grip, or even, sometimes, for his mouth.
Pate went out there on Sunday afternoon to beat Dye on a golf course that was driving nearly everyone batty, a "theater" course with waste and sand and water and humps and hills everywhere, a course with no "bail-out" room, a course with 18 unrelenting problems. Just beat Pete, he said to himself.
Pate fired a final round 67, five under par, for a 72-hole total of 280, eight under, and defeated a couple of indomitable lurkers, Brad (Dr. Dirt) Bryant and Scott Simpson, by two shots—his two closing birdies on holes that will become known as Fantasy Island (the 17th) and Beman's Lagoon (the 18th). It was Pate's cut eight-iron to the scary par-3 17th, and then the slick downhill 15-foot putt, followed by his blistering drive and his delicate five-iron to within two feet of the flagstick on the last hole that finally gave credibility to the tournament and proved that the course will reward brilliant shots.
In brief, a great ball-striker won on a golf course with the severest targets in existence.
But Pate being Pate, it was predictable he would "lip off' and leave golfing history with memorable words, something to rank with Hogan's utterance after he won the '51 Open at Oakland Hills outside of Detroit. "I brought the monster to its knees," Ben said. As Pate came up the 18th fairway, marching along to the applause and cheers of 30,000 in Dye and Beman's "stadium," his five-iron shot lying two feet from the paint on the pin, he flashed a grin, pointed toward the green and said, "I was just trying to beat Pete Dye today, and I believe I got him!"
The aquacade took place a few moments later. Pate said to the commissioner, "Come here, Deane, I want to show you something." He led Beman to the edge of the 18th green and hurled him into four feet of water. By then, Dye was removing his wallet and other valuables from his pockets. Pate thrust him in next, then dived in himself.
"Pete knew he was going in; I'd promised," said Pate later. "I don't know about Deane." Beman either knew or was hoping—for the show biz value of it. He had been observed handing his valuables to his wife, Judy, before Pate sank his putt.
Pate's mouth was running over, and he kept adding punch lines. "I threw Deane in because he wanted this course, I threw Pete in because he built it and I went in because I wanted to drown both of 'em," Pate cackled.
He was asked if the first-place check for $90,000 got wet.