Would everybody be still? Ah, lady, would you please not rattle that bag? Thank you."
Jerry Pate was trying to recover from what he later called his one bad shot today. What he needed was a bit more magic from a five-iron that had been so wondrous during victories in one major (the U.S. Open) and one near-major (the Tournament Players Championship). Now he had a chance to make a--you'll have to pardon this--big splash in the Masters.
Great golfers also are skittish animals, and as he was about to flick that orange orb off some pine needles and bend it around a tree toward the 18th green, Pate pulled back.
The bag had rattled.
Or he thought it had.
"Tell you what," Pate said, moving toward the flustered woman holding the plastic bag bulging with souvenirs. "The best thing for this is over here."
He took the bag and put it where he hadn't been able hit his tee ball, in the fairway. Behind him at address. Many in his gallery chuckled at the irony. One of them, in fact, had not thought the shot worthy of such fuss.
Moments after his drive had landed, as the rest of us hackers craned our necks and speculated at what sort of minor miracle it would take for Pate to make par when he arrived at the scene of his crime, Soozie Pate drifted in. She glanced down at the ball, then quickly turned and walked away, saying:
"He's all right."
Eventually, he was. After he got a marshal to borrow a pocket knife from a spectator and cut the gallery rope, after he shooed the crowd back five paces, after he put that bag in its place. After he apologized:
"It's like a guy pointing a gun at you and saying he's not gonna shoot it."
Then he swung. On command, the ball cut a wide arc away from the trees and then came back, resting off the low, safe side of the green. A chip and a putt for par kept Pate within a shot of leader Craig Stadler, until he signed his scorecard and was half finished with a press conference.
No sooner had he explained a five-under-par round that could have been better but for "a typical heartbreaking Augusta bogey," no sooner had he said there would be no Pate Plop in one of the dyed Masters' ponds if he won, than Stadler went birdie-birdie.
Three down with 18 holes to play, and paired with the leader, is not the worst place to be here. And Pate wants a Masters in the worst way, for dreamy and practical reasons.
"I was born in Georgia (Macon)," he said, "although we moved to Alabama when I was a year old. But I've been around the South all my life, so there couldn't be a bigger thrill than winning the Masters. That would be the No. 1 tournament in my life to win."
Earlier in the week, he'd said: "If I'd get a Masters under my belt, it would take a lot of pressure off. It would give me a chance to point more for major tournaments. I've played an awful lot of golf since being on tour. I'm caught between things I want to achieve; there's a fine line between winning tournaments and making money."
U.S. Amateur champion in 1974, U.S. Open and Canadian Open champion in '76, TPC winner this year and under $150,000 only once in his seven years on tour, Pate's greatest glory has come from twice jumping in a lake. He did it in Memphis last year, after he broke a three-year victory slump, and after the TPC three weeks ago.
Jumpin' Jerry. In a stagnant sea of Amana hats, he's the only one making waves. If he keeps winning, Pate will be the only golfer ever to endorse a line of swim wear. It's getting to be an embarrassment, and Pate knows it. Wet once is nice; dunking Pete Dye and Deane Beman was even better. Anything more is too much.
Where will Pate dive if he wins Sunday?
That's what he said today. A few days ago, he was joking about sprinting several hundred yards and plopping into the pond at 15. How appropriate that would be, he having botched the Masters a year ago on what usually is one of the easiest holes on the course.
Pate last year had 20 birdies and an eagle, yet finished just four under for the tournament and four shots behind winner Tom Watson. He was five over on the par-5 15th, with two 7s and a 6. He's parred the hole each round this year.
The 14th was troublesome today.
"Perfect drive," he said, "and a low kinda cut shot." Pate handed the club to his caddy and joked to playing partner Tom Weiskopf in the fairway, "Trevino would be proud. That's how he taught me."
The words scarcely had left his mouth when the ball began spinning back, to the edge of a drastic slope in the green and off. He'd gone from a seemingly brilliant shot to bogey in nine words.
"Putting," he'd said, over and over, before the tournament began. "Gotta putt better."
His is the swing of a duffer's dreams; it is not a gift of the golfing gods. His coach at Alabama, Conrad Rehling, was mainly responsible, said Pate, who arrived there as a 150-pound freshman with a wild hook, who was wild with excitement when he broke 75. He never played No. 1 on his college team.
"Mostly," he said, "I just grew. Filled out. Got stronger."
And wealthier. And sort of famous until those victory half-gainers that titilate the public but are seen as tacky by his peers.
"Probably, I'll act like everybody else if I win," he said. "Graciously accept the trophy." He hinted those plans could change. Then, realizing again just how far he'd have to go to see if Masters jackets shrink, he added, "What I'll do is donate the (winner's) check back to 'em, and we'll build a lake to the left of 18."