Deane Beman, in his best blazer and tasseled loafers, wallet still in his hip pocket, chose the backstroke.

Beman could enjoy this moment of aquatic glory, because, an hour before, he had assigned two guards to keep an eye on the alligators in the lake.

Pete Dye, his mouth full of swamp water, opted for a dead man's float, then, while on his back, spouted like a small whale. Finally, his brogans full of wet sand, he did the Australian crawl to the nearest sand trap, where he climbed ashore.

As for Jerry Pate, the hero and culprit of this sundown hour just wallowed like a happy turtle in a favorite bog. With only his wet pate above water, he looked like an old rock with eyes. His smile was even brighter than the orange golf ball which he had, minutes before, struck within half a pace of the 18th hole flag to clinch his triumph.

Golf has never had a scene quite like the one that ended the Tournament Players Championship today, as the victorious Pate, fresh from the thrill of spectacular birdies on the 71st and 72nd holes, wrestled the commissioner of golf and the game's most famous architect into the lake by the last hole.

Pate had the right. This afternoon, with his brilliant closing 67 for an eight-under-par total of 280 and a two-shot victory over Brad Bryant and Scott Simpson, Pate fulfilled all Beman and Dye's hopes for this event, while simultaneously allaying their worst fears. For that, the men he threw into the lake would gladly have paid him far more than his $90,000 first prize.

Beman and Dye desperately hoped this week for last-minute excitement, marvelously memorable winning shots and a well-known name atop the leaderboard. Pate, a past U.S. Open winner and the sixth-ranked money winner in golf the last two seasons, gave them all that and more.

No amount of cash could have bought the crowning shot that iced this win. At the 18th tee, Pate led Bryant by one shot. He had just sunk a 15-foot, downhill birdie putt at the instantly legendary 132-yard 17th hole. "I won the tournament on the 17th this week," said Pate, who played that water-locked, conversation-piece par-3 in 2-2-3-2.

Instead of playing cautiously on the 72nd hole, Pate scorched a draw down the preferred, but more dangerous, left side next to the lake. With 174 yards to the flag, Pate chose a five-iron, the stick he used to hit his famous Open winning shot from the rough at Atlanta Athletic Club in 1976. It was also the club he had hit the day before from the same spot here and hooked into the lake.

At Atlanta, Pate had left the ball a yard from the hole. This time, he did better. His towering blow made the mammoth crowd in the natural stadium beside the final hole gasp with delight as the ball plunked 15 feet short of the hole and trickled to no more than 20 inches.

When he walked the final yards at the Open, Pate "felt like cryin' " he was so happy. This evening, he felt "like I'd conquered the world. You'll never know just how great this stadium golf is unless you're the guy walking up the last fairway with 30,000 people cheering."

That five-iron shot merely capped a last hour of drama. Dye built this course, full of treacherously precise midiron shots into devilishly undulating greens, with the final four holes--his prize beasts--in mind. So, with four holes to play, what could be better than a three-way tie at six under among Pate, brother-in-law Bruce Lietzke and the colorful unknown of the week, Bryant.

Lietzke also went into the lake at evening. However, he did it with a bad luck, two-iron second-shot into the water at the par-5 No. 16, which led him to a bogey. Lietzke, who birdied the first two holes of his round and led by two shots, at eight under par, until he bogeyed the eighth and ninth holes, never recovered his composure and finished fourth at 73--283, one shot ahead of Roger Maltbie, 70-284.

Now $44,000 richer, Bryant never seemed likely to win, but did refuse to fold. Three times he bogeyed and each time, within three holes, he atoned with a birdie. But he was always a bit late. His birdie at 16 came minutes after he had seen Pate birdie the 17th just across the water.

"It's a good thing for the (reputation of the) course that Jerry won," he admitted, realizing that a Brad Bryant victory merely would have increased speculation that this course rewards goofy golf, not good golf.

This was a day of vindication. Bryant stood up to pressure. Simpson, who choked sadly on the lead, became the only player of the week to birdie 16, 17 and 18 as he grabbed his $44,000 share of second money. Beman's concept of stadium golf was an unqualified success. And even Dye's excitement-first course was vindicated, though Pate quipped, "I gave my check back to Pete to build some new greens."

Above all, however, Pate was vindicated.

"I hear it every day," he said. " 'You should be the best player (on tour). You have the best swing.' When the first tournament you ever win is the U.S. Open (at age 22), that's a monkey on your back. You go home at night and say, 'Why'd I do that . . . Why don't I manage myself better?' . . It's frustrating. That's why I'm half bald at 28.

"Also, I keep hearing, 'Jerry Pate's the worst wind player in the world.' If you hear that enough, you start thinking, 'Boy, I hope it doesn't blow today.' " And Pate, who closed 70-67 on two breezy days, grinned.

This day, Pate managed himself, lecturing himself to stop shooting for every pin--"I'm convinced that's hurt my game over the years"--and to play "aggressive, but not stupid." His chipping and putting were exemplary and he ignored the wind.

And, at the end, he remained his candid, outgoing self.

"I wasn't playing against Bruce . . . and Brad," he said. "I kept telling my caddie, 'We gotta beat Pete (Dye). We gotta beat the course, not the scoreboard.' "

Even now Pate wouldn't retract all the criticism he's leveled at greens created by Dye, a close friend.

"I threw Deane in the lake because he had the concept for this place, and I threw Pete in because he built it," said Pate, mischievously leaving it moot whether their work was a boon or bane.