“Cinderella story … former greenskeeper … from out of nowhere … about to become … the Masters champion.”
If you have ever picked up a stray 8-iron or even a rusty garden scythe and found yourself alone, with nobody within earshot — and it appeared the really heavy stuff wouldn’t be coming down for quite awhile — then you’ve probably done the Bill Murray as Carl Spackler “Caddyshack” impression.
At least if you are a guy.
If you were a gal, you’d have to say Kraft Nabisco champion instead of Masters champion, because golfers of the female persuasion weren’t allowed onto the hallowed ground of Augusta National Golf Club to play tournament golf, at least not until 10 days ago.
So 10 days ago there she was, 14-year-old Hunter Pate, a female, a Cinderella story from out of nowhere — an eighth-grader at Grant Sawyer Middle School in Las Vegas. And though she wasn’t a former greenskeeper, and she had only 15 feet left instead of 195 yards, she was about to become champion at Augusta National.
Only she didn’t know it for sure.
She was standing over a 15-foot putt on the slicker-than-slick 18th green at Augusta.
If she could make it, or get it close, she probably would win the inaugural Drive, Chip & Putt Championship.
No, it wasn’t the Masters, but it still seemed a pretty big deal. For this was Augusta National, where even the rough is manicured.
Plus, the Golf Channel was televising, and the announcers were talking in hushed tones.
So Hunter Pate was feeling pressure, because unlike the 7- and 8-year-olds, she had watched the Masters on TV. She was old enough to know what hallowed ground this was.
It was a bit more hallowed than the fairways and greens at Siena Golf Club, her favorite place to practice golf, though Siena does offer some fine views of the surrounding desert.
But azaleas aren’t indigenous to Siena Golf Club, and neither are Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state; and Bubba Watson, who would win his second green jacket a few days later; and Billy Payne, the chairman of staid and heretofore stuffy Augusta National.
The golfing luminaries and Fred Couples were on hand to greet the young Drive, Chip & Putt players. Bubba Watson had come over to wish Hunter well; Billy Payne was nice, too, and not at all stuffy.
So young Hunter Pate knew this was a pretty big deal.
She did not make the putt.
She left it pin-high, 8 inches from the hole.
And when the girl who was leading left her putt farther away, Jack Pate, Hunter’s dad, thrust both arms into the air and let out a cry and a whoop that probably woke up Big John Daly out there at the Hooters on Washington Road, where he signs autographs and hawks merchandise.
You are not supposed to cry and whoop at staid and stuffy Augusta, but that’s just what Jack Pate did when his daughter became the first female — or at least one of the first four females, because there were four divisions — to win a national golf championship there.
Hunter Pate, who drives the dimpled ball 260 yards on average, was just as happy. Only she was happy on the inside.
“I was just focused on the putt,” she said Wednesday on the putting green at Spanish Trail.
A lot of kids go to the mall during spring break. Hunter Pate goes to the golf course.
“I didn’t know how far I was away from the lead, but I knew I was relatively close,” she said. “I really wasn’t sure what was happening.”
Then she heard her dad cry and whoop, though you’re not supposed to do that at Augusta.
Her coach, Jerry Roberts, the golf pro emeritus at Spanish Trail, who is old enough to have hit persimmon woods and to remember Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, was delighted, too. Roberts says his young protege can be as good as she wants to be. All he basically does is keep her on track, he says, because she has little to learn mechanically.
And the next thing you know, Condi Rice was escorting precocious Hunter Pate from the 18th green to the clubhouse at Augusta National.
The reigning Nevada women’s amateur champion — she won the title last fall when she was 13 — wasn’t fitted for a green jacket. She received a nice trophy, or at least she will, when it arrives in the mail.
When I asked Jack Pate where his daughter’s history-making trophy was — the one she had to beat 17,000 kids to get — he chuckled and said somewhat sheepishly that it probably still was back in the USGA office.
Oh? Is there a story he’d like to share?
“We went out to celebrate,” Jack Pate said.
“We went out to dinner, and by the time we got back, they were closed.”
Perhaps Augusta National is a little less staid and stuffy than it used to be. But it doesn’t stay open late, not even for Cinderella stories.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.