Was I There? - The Masters

Was I There?

I’d told the story so many times I thought I might have made it up.

Was I There? - The MastersIn the first year of The Players at The Stadium Course, Jerry Pate promised to throw course designer Pete Dye in the lake next to the 18th green if he won. Walking down the 18th fairway, Pate doubled-down on his promise and after the final putt was made (with an orange ball), he grabbed Dye by the arm and threw him in the water. At the time, the PGA Tour allowed the local affiliates to gather near the green to get immediate reaction from the winner. When Pate was done with his round, we walked out on the green, only to witness his antics, first-hand.

I hate to use the phrase “it was a simpler time,” but it was, and in 1982, before cable and satellite and streaming services and cell phones and social media, local affiliates were a real source of information and our access was second only to the network paying to broadcast the event. (In that year, it was CBS, so we were the affiliate on site.) Consequently, we were standing right there when all of this was going on.

Pate grabbing the Commissioner, Deane Beman, was a spontaneous gesture. He happened to see Deane standing there and figured he’d throw him in the water as well. And then with the grace of an experienced diver, the US Open and now Players Champion executed a beautiful swan dive off the bulkhead and into the lake.

There are famous pictures of the event with Pate in full-flight and Deane and Pete in the water. CBS Golf Producer Frank Chirkinian cut between an alligator swimming in the lake (actually back on 17) and the three guys in the water for dramatic effect. It was funny, playful, and certainly newsworthy.

Pre-Tiger Woods, the PGA Tour was looking for all of the exposure it could get, so this was a scene played over and over by news organizations and affiliates all over the world. The nearly perfect cap to the opening of the controversial Stadium Course, the Players own championship and the PGA Tour’s foray into golf course design and building.

All of that seems routine now, but Beman had gotten a lot of push back about the Tour’s intention to build a network of courses from players like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Raymond Floyd, who’s intention to continue to build their own course design businesses would be in direct competition with the Tour.

I was standing maybe fifteen feet from Pate when he jumped in the water. Microphone in hand, attached to photographer Ramon Hernandez, we had a front row seat to a little slice of golf history.

The best picture of the event was taken from across the lake, on the hill that separated nine and eighteen at the time. (There’s a hospitality club there now). It’s a great shot with Jerry in the air and the other two already in the water. Standing on the green are a few people, a Red Coat (Volunteer Tournament Chairman) a radio reporter, a TV photographer and a couple of others. And I was right there, but the picture and subsequent mural in the TPC at Sawgrass clubhouse lobby CROPPED ME OUT!

I had told that story so many times I thought I might have created my own reality. But a few years ago Golf Magazine printed a picture taken from the CBS tower behind the 18th green looking down the fairway. And sure enough, I was standing right there.

“How do you know that’s you,” my wife Linda asked when I showed her the picture.

“Because I know exactly what I was wearing. A blue and yellow horizontal striped Wild Dunes shirt,” I answered.

“Are you wearing jeans,” she continued, looking close at the picture.

“Actually, what did everybody in Charleston wear to golf tournaments when we lived there?” I asked.

“Of course, seersucker,” she said with a laugh.

“And penny loafers,” I said as we shared a funny memory.

I’m at my 43rd Masters this week, so a few more golf memories to come as the week progresses.