By Ron Driscoll
LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic – Jerry Pate could empathize with the competitors in this week’s Latin America Amateur Championship as they tested their games against the daunting closing stretch of holes on the Teeth of the Dog Course at Casa de Campo.
In 1974, Pate was the reigning U.S. Amateur champion and the last player on the course for the four-man USA team as it tried to close out a victory in the World Amateur Team Championship. The Teeth of the Dog had opened just three years earlier, and Pate had just turned 21.
“It was amazing to come down here and play with players like George Burns, who was probably the best amateur in the world at that time, with 19-year-old Curtis Strange, who was just coming up, and Gary Koch, who was 22,” said Pate.
Pate would go on to win eight times on the PGA Tour, including a memorable U.S. Open victory at Atlanta Athletic Club in 1976 as a rookie professional. But first he proved himself against the top players in the world at Casa de Campo.
“This championship gave me the confidence that I was a player who was deserving of winning a trophy like the U.S. Amateur,” said Pate. “This was a stepping stone for my career. I went on to qualifying school for the Tour the next year, then I won the Open. Who would have known?”
Pate, 62, followed the play at the LAAC this week with Casa de Campo owner and longtime friend Alfie Fanjul, with whom Pate later played in the Bing Crosby Pro-Am. Pate also noted the symmetry between the leadership of his USA team nearly 42 years ago and this week’s event.
“We had Hord Hardin as our captain, who was a former USGA president [in 1968 and 1969],” said Pate. “He went on to become the chairman of Augusta National, and here we are back at Casa de Campo at this event, which is sponsored and endorsed by Augusta National.”
The USA led by one stroke after the first round of the 1974 WATC and increased its lead every day, taking a seven-stroke advantage into the final day. But the wind wreaked havoc in Round 4, and the lead slipped to one shot as Pate was playing his inward nine.
“My most memorable moment was coming to the par-3 15th hole [with its green perched on the Caribbean Sea], and I needed to bring it to the clubhouse so we could win,” said Pate. “The pin was back right, playing about 210 yards, and I hit a 1-iron in to about 6-8 feet and made a 2. I went on to par 17 and 18, and we ended up winning over Japan.”
Pate fondly recalled his rooting section as he made the clinching birdie, which gave the USA its fourth straight WATC title, a record that still stands.
“Curtis and Gary had played in the morning on that final day,” said Pate. “They were on the back of the green with their hats on backwards, drinking El Presidente beer and waving their hats when I hit my shot. We were all college kids. It’s something you never forget.”
The Teeth of the Dog continues to impress Pate today.
“This golf course has never really changed,” Pate said of Pete Dye’s renowned design. “It’s better-conditioned; they have changed grasses from Bermuda to paspalum, but it’s the same magnificent test of golf. It plays different every single day, and from morning to afternoon.”
A later career highlight for the University of Alabama standout occurred in 1982, when he won The Players Championship on another Dye course, TPC Sawgrass. He celebrated the victory, his final one on Tour, by pushing Dye and PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman into the lake beside the 18th green, then plunging in after them.
“We had a 25th anniversary celebration of me throwing them in the lake,” Pate recalled. “Mr. Dye flew down here to Casa de Campo with me this week, and I told him that I think he had on the same pants and shoes that he was wearing when I threw him in the first time.”
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.