Jerry Pate went almost 24 years between his last victory on the PGA Tour and his first on the Champions Tour, so what if almost 24 months elapsed between his first senior win and Sunday's triumph at the Turtle Bay Championship?
The oft-injured Pate, driven off the PGA Tour because of shoulder woes when he was only 28, kept his game tidy in extreme winds on Oahu that made the final round on Turtle Bay's Palmer course quite a challenge--from tee to green and once you got there.
"I was playing with Scott Simpson," Pate said Monday morning, "and he had about a 30-foot putt on the 16th hole and putted it right off the green into a hazard. The ball just kept going."
The final round began as a dogfight among the final pairing of Gil Morgan, Jim Thorpe and Bernhard Langer, but the trio had its problems. Pate, four strokes behind when the day began, birdied Nos. 8-10, then settled in with seven straight pars that pretty much settled the outcome, giving the 54-year-old his first win since the 2006 Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at 5-under 211.
The week was an emotional one for Pate, who dedicated his victory to the memory of Justin Wilk, the 25-year-old son of his good friend Kevin Wilk, who died unexpectedly Jan. 8. "It was devastating for Kevin," Pate said. "He had gotten an e-mail from his son the day before he died, talking about much he was looking forward to this year, and then, boom, the next day they find him dead. I told Kevin I was going to Hawaii for two tournaments, and I was going to win one of them for Justin."
An Alabama physical therapist, Kevin Wilk guided Pate through many hours of rehabilitation following the golfer's shoulder surgeries in 2003 and 2006. "This game is so crazy," Pate said. "I won in Tampa two years ago then got hurt a month later and had to have another surgery. And then after being out of the game for six months, I kind of lost my putting. All last year I had a mechanical flaw--I was kind of dragging the putter grip back first and creating a bad angle with my left wrist. I tell you, I was missing putts from a foot. It's not like I was nervous and had the yips, I just mechanically couldn't release the putter."
Pate, 41st on the 2007 money list, finally figured out what was wrong with his putting stroke last fall, and he came into the new year confident that a career with so many detours might go smoothly for a while. Sunday's win makes him fully exempt and has broadened his optimism.
"I can challenge them," he said of tour standouts such as Jay Haas and Loren Roberts. "Those guys are great players. But history says that before I was injured, when my putting was solid, I could compete with anybody. This is exciting for me."