Seeing orange: The story behind Pate's PLAYERS-winning ball

Jerry Pate's winning golf ball is now displayed on the wall in the clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass.
March 21, 2012
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM contributor

Jerry Pate used an orange golf ball for the first time in 1981 when he won the Colombian Open in Bogota. It was one of his 16 worldwide victories, eight of those on the PGA TOUR.

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A year later, Pate captured THE PLAYERS with an orange golf ball. The ball and the 5-iron he used during play of the final hole are on display in the clubhouse at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. He finished birdie-birdie to win by 2 shots. On the 72nd hole, Pate hit the 5-iron to within two feet of the hole.

Wilson Sporting Goods executive Joe Phillips proposed the orange ball idea to Pate.

"He said, 'Would you be interested in playing an orange ball?'" Pate said. "I told him I'd never hit a colored ball except at the putt-putt. The first time I ever used it was in Bogota. I made 23 birdies, three eagles and shot 26-under. Every putt I hit with that orange ball went right into the hole. Nobody had ever seen an orange ball in Colombia. Really hadn't seen that in America, either."

For his victory at THE PLAYERS, Pate was presented a Waterford crystal trophy that proved to be prophetic.

"I don't know how to describe it but it had the image of the backdrop of the 18th green at the TPC, the palm trees, with a person standing there putting," Pate said. "The silhouette on this trophy, I'm telling you, is me putting. If you look at that and look at pictures of me, it's the same picture of me. The silhouette was carved in the glass and it was sitting there at the club before the tournament -- with an image of me. But I never looked at it beforehand."

It was while studying the trophy on the flight from Jacksonville that Pate noticed the obvious resemblance.

"It was a total coincidence and I've never asked anybody about it," said Pate, a University of Alabama graduate. "Just kind of kept it to myself all these years. The trophy is at Shoal Creek in Birmingham. It's been there 30 years. I loaned it to them for their clubhouse. When I go back to Birmingham for the Regions Tradition, I'm going to look at it again."

The Regions Tradition, a major on the Champions Tour, is June 7-10.