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May 11 2011

3:58 PM

Pate recalls signature shot

MEMORABLE MOMENTS: The best shots, finishes in the history of THE PLAYERS

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Jerry Pate calls the PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass diabolical. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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"It was designed to challenge the best shot-making," Pate said. "And if you look at the history of who's won here, just about all of them are pretty good ball strikers.  Not all of them are long, not all of them are short, but they all could hit the ball straight.  They could work the ball left to right and right to left.

"I think that was the key to playing well here, is striking the ball and knowing where it's going when you hit it because if you hit it off line you were going to pay the penalty."

Pate won THE PLAYERS Championship 30 years ago. He's known for jumping in the lake beside the 18th green -- pulling Deane Beman and Pete Dye in with him -- to celebrate that victory. In truth, though, it wasn't the first time he'd made such a plunge. He leapt into the water when he won the 1981 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic, too.

"We come here and it's a little different circumstance," Pate said. "You really need to go back and look at that field in '82 and see who missed the cut. It was incredible. And all the top names in golf complained the golf course was too hard. We didn't need to be in the golf business. It was unfair; it didn't reward great shot making; it was all about luck and all of the above.

".... And so I just decided, what the heck. I saw Alice Dye on 10, 11, 12, the par 4.  I birdied 12, and it looks like I'm about to get into the lead, and she's walking from 12 over to 13.  It's a pretty good walk, and she patted me on the back and said, ‘Come on, you can win this thing.  Pete really wants you to win it.’  I said, Y’ou tell Pete I'm going to throw him in the lake.’ That was it."

While fans may remember that watery leap of faith, Pate most fondly recalls the 5-iron he hit to 2 feet at the 72nd hole. The 19-time PGA TOUR champ calls it one of the most "meaningful" shots of his career -- and that includes the 5-iron he hit out of the right rough, over the water, for birdie on the final hole of the 1976 U.S. Open.

"I had had some great shots in golf," Pate said. "You know, the hole in one at Cypress Point with a 1-iron, the hole in one at the U.S. Open where the four guys made hole in ones and then the Open shot with a 5-iron.

"But when I hit the shot in there, I don't know if people remember, but in the pressroom ... I said, yeah, I guess I pulled another 5-iron because people for years had said that to hit it this close on the last hole of the U.S. Open with the pin on the left and the water on the left you had to pull it.  Nobody would do it.  I said, Hey, at 22 years old you don't know what pull is. You're just, boom.

"You see the kids out there today, every shot is right at the pin, and needless to say I wasn't short on confidence.  And I thought I was a great ball striker, so I just fired it right at the pin. That was a great rewarding moment for me was to hit that 5-iron on the last hole here two feet from the hole and be able to say that in the pressroom.  I guess I can bench you guys now that I can hit the ball."

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