TURTLE BAY CHAMPIONSHIP
Jerry Pate credited the tough conditions with bringing the field down to his level yesterday.
Last man standing
Jerry Pate may be Turtle Bay's last champion after winning yesterday
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Listening to a religious broadcast on television early yesterday morning, Jerry Pate opened the curtain to his hotel room and saw a perfect rainbow over the Pacific Ocean that convinced him he was going to win the $1.6 million Turtle Bay Championship.
Tops at Turtle
Past 10 winners of the Turtle Bay Championship:
2008: Jerry Pate
2007: Fred Funk
2006: Loren Roberts
2005: Hale Irwin
2004: Hale Irwin
2003: Hale Irwin
2002: Hale Irwin
2001: Hale Irwin
2000: Hale Irwin
1999: Bruce Fleisher
Sinking three consecutive birdie putts in the middle of the blustery round didn't hurt either as Pate's 2-under 70 left him at 5-under 211 for the tournament, two strokes clear of Jim Thorpe (74) and Fulton Allem (73) to secure only his second victory on the Champions Tour.
One of Pate's closest friends, who helped him rehab after his fifth shoulder surgery, just lost his 26-year-old son before Pate and his wife came out to Hawaii for these two season-opening events. He flew to Birmingham, Ala., on a private plane to be with Kevin Wilk and his family to offer support as they dealt with losing their son, Justin.
"It was a perfect rainbow from tip to toe," Pate said. "That's a great omen, I told her (his wife), I'm going to win today."
Pate teared up on several occasions as he spoke of the loss he felt and how he so badly wanted to win a tournament to honor his friend.
"I couldn't care less about this trophy and the check," Pate said. "I wanted to accomplish something, and it gives me the opportunity to be a better person, to do things for other people and to set examples."
Pate certainly set a good one on the Arnold Palmer-designed course. His final round was equaled only by Wayne Grady, who finished in a four-way tie for fourth at 214 with Loren Roberts (71), Gil Morgan (77) and Robert Thompson (72). Only four golfers broke par.
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When Jerry Pate burst on the scene 32 years ago, he held as much promise as any young golfer in the game.
He won the 1976 U.S. Open as a 23-year-old PGA Tour rookie, and finished runner-up to John Mahaffey at the 1978 PGA Championship and to Hale Irwin at the 1979 U.S. Open. He placed sixth on the tour money list in 1980 and 1981, winning a combined $503,603. His $153,102 in official earnings in 1976 were the most by a tour rookie until Hal Sutton broke it six years later.
But when the first of several shoulder problems cropped up in 1982, the next quarter-century was filled more with operations and frustrations than anything else, cutting short a great career in the making. His last PGA Tour victory in 1982 was at the Tournament Players Championship, the first year at Sawgrass.
He not only won it with an orange golf ball, he also shoved tour commissioner Deane Beman and famed TPC course designer Pete Dye into the lake near the 18th green, before diving in himself.
For Pate, there were no water sports at the 18th yesterday, saying "those days are over" after capturing the $1.6 million Turtle Bay Championship by two shots with a final-round 70 to finish at 5-under 211. His total was 18 shots worse than defending champion Fred Funk's 23-under 193, setting a Champions Tour record for scoring disparity in a 54-hole event in consecutive years.
Blame it on the tradewinds that blew hard all day, forcing the 77 golfers in the first full-field event of 2008 to put away their yardage books and play with feel. Nobody felt it any better than Pate, who matched the best round of the day thanks to three consecutive birdies at Nos. 8-10.
It's the first win for Pate in 39 tour events dating back to the 2006 Outback Championship. Prior to that, he went 24 years between victories, giving you an idea how much this means to the man from Macon, Ga.
"I'm just good," Pate deadpanned, then said, "I'm just kidding. My game has always been the tougher the better. When I won in Tampa (Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am), Tampa is probably the toughest golf course we play. You only had to shoot like 8 under to win,
"When I don't have to stand up there and knock in every putt from here to the airport -- and these guys do that and I don't know how in the world they do it. Unfortunately golf becomes, a lot of times, a putting contest, instead of the whole game. For me, when you just stand out there and say, 'OK let's see who can hit it the best and par means something,' that plays right into my hands."
You won't get any argument from Fulton Allem and Jim Thorpe, who tied for second at 3-under 213. Allem rolled in a birdie putt from 25 feet at the last to close with a 1-over 73. Not being an exempt player, the top-10 finish allows him to be in the field at the Allianz Championship in two weeks.
Thorpe took some money out of Allem's pocket with a birdie at the closing hole to shoot a 2-over 74. Wayne Grady's 70 matched Pate's best round of the day and allowed him to finish in a tie for fourth at 2-under 214 with Loren Roberts (71), Monday qualifier Robert Thompson and 36-hole leader Gil Morgan (77).
Jerry Pate held aloft the trophy for the Turtle Bay Championship after winning the Champions Tour event yesterday.
No golfer shot in the 60s yesterday and only four landed in red numbers. It was the highest finish here since the tournament came to Turtle Bay in 2001 and when Bob Charles won with a 4-under total in 1990 at the Kaanapali Classic on a rainy day in Maui. The scoring average of 76.078 was nearly four shots higher than the opening round on Friday in relatively calm conditions. To give you an idea how windy it was, Funk finished his Hawaii Slam with an 81 to drop all the way down to a tie for 32nd at 221. That was 28 shots higher than a year ago.
"Conditions were very difficult," said Allem, who was paired with Pate and Scott Simpson. "You had to be very patient and you could hit some putts that would make you look like an idiot. Survival, that's all that was, pure survival. It's nice to know that I can still compete."
Thorpe echoed those sentiments.
"I thought (Saturday) was the toughest round I ever played, that was even tougher," Thorpe said. "All you could do out there was try to survive. That wind was brutal."
Just the way Pate likes it.
"You have to remember, I won the U.S. Open and I was second at the U.S. Open," Pate said. "I won the U.S. Amateur, so those are tough challenges. I was in the top five of the PGA Championship the first four times I played it. I did a lot before I was 28 years old.
"I won the Players Championship on the meanest, hardest golf course that God and Pete Dye ever built. They changed that golf course dramatically, they made it a lot easier.
"It was so tough, they were going to fire the commissioner over it. They built a golf course no one can play. But it played right into my hands because I've always thought of myself as a good ball-striker and a good putter."
And on this day when the course played its toughest, he did both well enough to win.