Steve Pate Will Take Second-Place Finish : Despite Losing Playoff to Levi, Former Bruin Knows He Is Set for Year
The sudden emergence of Steve Pate on the leader board of the Atlanta Golf tournament last week came as a surprise to most followers of the golf tour, but not to those who knew him at the La Cumbre Country Club in Santa Barbara or at UCLA where he was an All- America selection in 1983.
Pate, 24, in his first year on the tour, lost Sunday to Wayne Levi on the second hole of a playoff. In 13 previous professional starts, Pate had done no better than a tie for 53rd at Doral. His second-place payoff of $54,000 was 10 times his previous 1985 earnings.
“I have no complaints (about losing the playoff) because now I don’t have to worry about keeping my (playing) card this year,” Pate said. “I was beginning to wonder what I had to do to make it out here (on the tour).
“I didn’t expect to win right off the bat, but I figured I would make maybe $80,000 or $100,000 my first year. Then I found out how hard it is to make money. I didn’t realize how good so many of the nonwinners are, how deep the scores go. You have to shoot real low to make the top 10. I got so I was playing to make the cut rather than playing to win.”
Pate had made the cut in only 6 of 13 tournaments before Atlanta. He turned pro in August, 1983, but did not get his players card until last November at the PGA qualifying tournament at La Quinta. He remained at UCLA to graduate with a degree in economics after completing his eligibility the previous year.
For most of his amateur career, Pate labored in the shadow of more publicized players. At UCLA, it was Corey Pavin, 1982 College Player of the Year. At La Cumbre, it was Sam Randolph, who is four years younger than Pate but whose remarkable junior career overshadowed Pate’s performances.
Even in his brightest hour as a collegian, Pate, a senior, had to share honors with Randolph, a freshman at USC, when they tied for the 1983 Pacific 10 championship with 290s on the Los Angeles Country Club’s north course. There was no playoff, but UCLA won the conference championship by 22 strokes over USC. A share of the Pacific 10 title, plus three other wins, earned Pate first team All-America honors.
Pate enrolled at UCLA in 1980 after winning the CIF Southern Section championship for San Marcos High School, and Coach Eddie Merrins expected him to immediately play in the first or second spot for the Bruins. Instead, he played very little for three years as Pavin, Mickey Yokoi, Tom Pernice and Jay Delsing dominated.
“Steve’s temperament stood in his way,” Merrins said. “It really handicapped him. He had talent, lots of it, but he didn’t seem to get a handle on his temper until his senior year in school. I think he did a little retrospect on himself and realized he’d wasted three years, as far as golf was concerned. He’s always been the type of player you don’t notice much. His golf swing is not as classic as some, but now that he has secured a place for himself on the tour, he may start winning a lot of money.”
Some bad luck hurt Pate in his playoff with Levi. After each had parred the first extra hole, Pate put his approach shot on the second hole only 18 feet from the cup, but it was on the fringe. When it landed, the ball dug up a clump of grass right in front of where it stopped. Because the ball was not on the green, Pate could not repair the divot and had to chip over it, rather than putt. His chip for a birdie rolled six feet past the hole.
“When he missed, it made things a lot easier for me,” Levi said at the time. “I knew I couldn’t lose the hole so I went for the birdie, and it was on line all the way.” Levi won $90,000.
No one watching on TV knew that, however, for CBS had abandoned the tournament 90 minutes earlier. If it had stayed with the golf, viewers would have seen Pate, who weighs 165 pounds, wearing pants made for a 180-pounder.
Pate was eating lunch at the Atlanta Country Club before going out to practice for Sunday’s final round when he spilled chili onto his lap. His attempts to clean up the mess weren’t too successful.
“When I got to the driving range, Gary McCord (a fellow pro who was working on the TV crew after missing the 36-hole cut) told me I couldn’t go on national TV looking like that, so we traded pants right there on the range. I’m sure his looked better than mine did. I guess no one saw me in my baggy pants. When I got to 15, I noticed the cameras were deserted.”
Pate, secured of a place on the tour’s all-exempt roster for the remainder of the season, will be on the tee Thursday at the Colonial Country Club for the $500,000 St. Jude Memphis tournament.