Interview with Chris Patton
It has been 14 years since Chris Patton has had a golf club in his hand and an official scorecard in his pocket.
This week the 1989 US Amateur champion is making a return to the game of his youth. He has accepted an exemption to play in the USGA Senior Open Championship at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.
“When Larry (Clemson coach Larry Penley) told me they wanted me to play I said it must be a joke,” recalled Patton.
It was anything but a joke. Any player in his first year of eligibility (50 years old) who has won a U.S. Amateur, Masters Tournament, Open Championship conducted by The R&A, Amateur Championship conducted by The R&A or PGA Championship is eligible for this one time opportunity.
“It had been a long time since I played in anything like this. When I started to think about playing I realized it had been so long since I played all of my clubs were not legal anymore,” he laughed.
Patton got some help from old friends at Callaway and began knocking off more than a decade of rust to get ready to step back into the arena he left. His new favorite club is a hybrid that replaced a couple of long irons.
The full length portrait of Patton with his US Amateur trophy still hangs prominently in the clubhouse at Fox Run Country Club. The membership at his home club has been his biggest boosters not only encouraging him, but helping with some of the expenses for the trip.
He has been out early everyday hitting golf balls, trying to get the soft touch back around the green that made him a complete player in the past.
Patton has been away form the game long enough that many area golf fans might not remember how dominant a player he was in his college days at Clemson.
Before Lucas Glover, Jonathan Byrd or Doc Redman, Patton was the golfer others measured their Clemson success against his record.
He was a three-time All ACC golfer and a member of the 50th anniversary golf team for the conference,
He was a three-time All-American who shares the school record for most college wins, five, with D J Trahan.
Patton was the low amateur in the 1990 Masters before turning pro. He became the first Clemson alum to play in the British Open.
He played on the Nationwide Tour (now Web.com) and won. He also won on the Canadian Tour, the Hooters Tour and the Australasia Tour.
“A lot of the guys I came up with are now on the Senior Tour. Guys like Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly were around when I was playing so it will be fun to see some of them again,” he said.
Once he left playing professionally Patton has never looked back. A year or so ago he did look into getting his amateur status back so he might be able to play in some tournaments with his son.
“I tried to answer all the questions on the website honestly, but I played on so many Tours that I didn’t have all the information they wanted. I wasn’t going to lie, but some of the Tours are out of business like the Teardrop Tour. I finally just gave up,’ he said.
Since leaving professional golf Patton has operated the family farm, He is a cattle rancher with 65 acres of pasture and about 60 head of cattle.
Until last April golf was a spectator sport for the one time national champion. It was an opportunity to watch his youngest son develop a game worth receiving a scholarship to play at his dads alma mater.
Patton is looking forward to playing in the event mostly because it will be an opportunity for his son to see what it is like inside the ropes at a championship event.
“Colby is a good player and a great son, but he wasn’t around when I was playing so he really doesn’t have any idea of what it is like. This will give him a chance to get a good look at what goes on,” said Patton.
Colby Patton just completed his freshman year at Clemson. He won a tournament and was in the starting lineup for the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.
Patton asked his son for his opinion and his help before he made a final decision to play.
“I asked him to caddy for me and he said he would. I also made sure he knew that I could go out there and shoot an 85. He understood and said it wouldn’t matter,’ said Patton.
While the former Tour player is going into the tournament with no expectations, he was concerned with embarrassing his family and his Clemson family.
“The last thing I wanted was to go out there and embarrass anyone. I’m not worried about me because I’m past that, but I didn’t want it to be a problem for anyone else,” he said.
When Patton began his pro career he was teased unmercifully for his size. Always a big guy, in recent years a health scare has forced him to take better care of himself and trim down.
“I took a lot of abuse back in the day, but I’m at peace with who I am. I’m not defined by golf, but by the kind of man I am,” he said.
Patton is approaching the tournament with no expectations. Some of his friends at Fox Run have asked what he would do if he won.
“They must be smoking something,” he joked. “The only expectation I have is to take it one shot at a time and give it my best effort and whatever happens happens:” he said.
In addition to Colby being on the bag, Chris’s wife Meg and oldest Son Zachery will also make the trip.
“We are going to have a great family outing no matter what happens. It is going to be something we can remember as a family for a long time,” Patton concluded.