Jerry Pate hits another putt on the practice green at the TPC of
Tampa Bay. It's the middle of February, and he's getting ready to
play in his third Champions tour event, having four-putted three
times in his senior debut two weeks earlier. "Hell, I never
four-putted once the whole time I was on the PGA Tour," he says,
rolling an eight-footer dead center into the cup.
No one disputes that the man has talent. He won the U.S. Amateur
at 20, the U.S. Open at 22. In his early years on Tour he was the
boldest, brashest, trigger-happiest young gun in a star-studded
generation that included Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins, Hal Sutton, Ben
Crenshaw and Curtis Strange. And he doesn't mind telling you about
it. How he aced Cypress Point's famed 16th with a one-iron during
the '82 Crosby--with an orange ball. How he one-upped Greg Norman
in a practice-round match at Augusta by making a hole in one at 16
moments after Norman had thrilled the gallery with a shot inside a
foot. How Lee Trevino led him to a win in the Ryder Cup by choosing
every club for him and then dubbed him "the finest golfer in the
world--from the neck down."
Pate's defining moment, though, came during what might be the most
important tournament in the last 25 years. Modern golf was invented
at the 1982 Players Championship, which Pate won. It was the debut
of the Stadium Course at the TPC at Sawgrass, a controversial
layout conceived by Tour commissioner Deane Beman and designed by
Pete Dye. Fans like to see a crash at an auto race, and this
course, Dye said, "put the crash in golf."
The splash, too. After Pate birdied the last two holes to come
from behind and win, he pushed Beman and Dye into the pond to the
left of the 18th green and then dived in after them "so I could
drown 'em," Pate would later say. It was a fun, unexpected
made-for-television moment, and it made the Players Championship
more than simply another tournament. Golf became entertainment, and
suddenly the sport saw its future. The people on the scene that day
remember what it looked like.
JERRY PATE: I had a feeling all week I was going to win. I was
hitting the ball so well and that course was so tough, I knew I
could hang in there. Earlier in the week--about Friday--I asked
Pete [Dye], "What's at the bottom of the lake by 18, because if I
win, I'm going to throw your butt in." He said it basically had a
sand bottom. I asked how deep, and he said four or five feet.
Alice Dye (Pete's wife, who walked most of the back nine on Sunday
with Pate): I caught up with Jerry after he'd birdied the 12th
hole. I gave him the thumbs-up and he came over and said, "I'm
going to throw your husband in the lake when I'm done." But at that
point, no one knew he was going to win, and he still had to play
the 17th. Only Jerry would dare push Deane and my husband in the
water. When he visited us in the Dominican Republic to play the
World Cup, Jerry climbed a palm tree. That was Jerry.
PATE: Deane's wife, Judy, came up to me and said, "You're not
going to throw Deane in the water, are you? He has a new suit on."
I said, "Tell him he'd better get ready."
ALICE DYE: When I told Pete after the round what Jerry had said,
Pete handed me his glasses and his wallet. We knew Jerry well
enough to know he'd do it. I knew Jerry would do it if he had to
chase Pete all over, and I knew Pete couldn't outrun him.
DEANE BEMAN: I don't remember how I knew, but the clue that I knew
what was coming was that my wife had my wallet and my watch. Alice
Dye had Pete's wallet, but Pete doesn't wear a watch. He never
knows what time it is.
Frank Chirkinian (CBS's director in charge of the Players
telecast): None of us knew for sure what was coming. It was a
shock. Jerry Pate proved that impetuosity knows no age. He was a
PATE: I called Deane and Peter over and said, "I want to show you
guys something--we have a design problem we have to fix." When we
got to the water, I threw Deane in, grabbed Pete and threw him in.
ALICE DYE: It all happened so fast--blowie!
PETE DYE: I thought he was just talking. Even when I saw him throw
Deane in the lake, I thought that was the end of it. Next thing I
know, I'm flying through the air like a jerk. It wasn't like going
into somebody's swimming pool--there were some stumps out there!
Fortunately, we didn't pile on top of anything. He dived in,
probably the dumbest thing you could do. I can't remember how many
names I called him.
PATE: I knew the water was shallow, so I did a racing dive. It
looked better too.
CHIRKINIAN: After the initial shock of it wore off, we thought it
was funny as hell, and probably deserved. Deane came out of the
whole thing looking like a good sport, but privately he was
indignant as hell.
We caught the whole thing on videotape. We replayed it a couple of
times too. We had recorded a shot of an alligator in one of the
other ponds, and I replayed the alligator shot while they were in
the water. There was no alligator in their area, but we had some
fun with it.
David Eger (a PGA Tour official working the tournament): I was
back in the rules trailer watching on TV. Some people were laughing
when Deane hit the water, others were saying you shouldn't do that
to the commissioner. I'd never seen Deane let loose so much. I
couldn't see Jerry throwing Joe Dey, the previous commissioner, in
the water. Joe wouldn't have gotten within 40 feet of the water. Of
course, Joe wouldn't have built that course.
BEMAN: Afterward I got a foot up on the wall at the front of the
green and climbed out. I went to the awards ceremony wet, then went
home and changed.
Pete Davison (the director of golf for the Stadium Course): Deane
was a big subject of conversation because he had a cashmere coat on
when he hit the water. It was pretty expensive and got ruined. He
obviously wasn't anticipating a dunk in the water. We realized Pete
Dye was a mess, so we grabbed some clothes and took them to him. He
was soaking wet and didn't have anything to change into.
PETE DYE: I got more recognition for being thrown into that pond
than for any course I've ever done. The replay was on TV every time
I turned around. If it happened today, hell, I'd probably drown. It
did more for Deane than for anyone. The course was controversial,
and Deane was walking the chalk, wondering how it was going to be
accepted. Then it turned out like it did on TV, got great ratings,
and he was on cloud nine.
The best thing was, I got a pair of free pants from the pro, Pete
Davison. I still have 'em, and I still wear 'em.
EGER: The unforeseen consequence was that Deane contracted
hepatitis shortly thereafter--still has touches of it now--and he
thinks the dive may have had something to do with it. Of course, he
was the one responsible for creating that lake.
PETE DYE: Deane did get hepatitis. He was floating on his back,
spitting up water like a fountain--like something a kid would do.
He told me later, "You know, I got hepatitis from that lake." I
said, "Well, you shouldn't have been drinking the water."
PATE: It was a fun ending, a little levity after a
very-high-tension week. I got a lot of letters about it. One was
from the spina bifida people. They said I wasn't setting a good
example for kids by diving blindly into ponds. Their message was,
"Feet first, first time," which makes sense when you think about
it. I've heard about the dive every single week of my life for 22
years, which has been terrific.
BEMAN: It's amazing how certain incidents, for whatever reason,
stick out over the years. That one certainly has.
CHIRKINIAN: My fondest memories are mostly from Augusta--the '75
Masters, the '86 Masters. But this one is right up there. I think
it is one of the top 10 moments in golf in the last 30 years.
PETE DYE: I didn't feel as if I was a part of history, just wet.
I'm old school. Golf was never meant to be thrown in the water
quite like that. When I was in the air, I thought, Nothing like
this has happened before. This is going to change golf. And it did.
Bruce Lietzke (he was tied for the lead going into the final
round): The dive added an exclamation point to the tournament. I
don't think we realized that this was the dawn of a new age for the
PGA Tour. It was the end of the Tour slipping quietly into town,
playing its event and slipping quietly out. After Jerry's dive the
Tour made a bigger noise. When more TPC courses started showing up,
golf got bigger and wilder and louder. It was Deane's dream, his
vision, and boy, it absolutely came true. It all started there that
A few weeks later Jerry Pate, only 28 and the Tour's leading money
winner at the time, suffered a shoulder injury that effectively
ended his competitive career. He went on to work as a TV
commentator, started a course-design firm and built a golf
maintenance equipment business. He gained a sense of patience and
humility by becoming a father of three. In fact, Pate won't be
attending next week's Players Championship because his daughter,
Jenny, 25, is getting married that Saturday in Pensacola, Fla. (His
son Wesley is a senior at Alabama, and son Jamie a sophomore at
Florida State.) As a wedding gift the Pates gave Jenny one of their
several sets of crystal. She chose the Waterford her dad won at the
1982 Players Championship.
Last year a fourth shoulder operation and six months of rehab so
intense that he stayed at his doctor's house in Birmingham for the
duration, got Pate swinging without pain again, just in time to
turn 50 and give senior golf a try. That's why now, 22 years after
his win at the Players, Pate finds himself on the practice green at
the TPC of Tampa Bay. It's a quiet Monday afternoon, and a lone fan
walks past as Pate works on his stroke. "Hey, Jerry!" the man calls
out, "how about one more dive on the senior tour?" Pate
straightens, gives a small wave and flashes his wide, familiar
"When I was in the air, I thought, Nothing like this has ever
happened in golf."