The Players Championship, so-called Fifth Major that it is, is one of the biggest tournaments in professional golf. Offering the season’s largest purse, the PGA Tour’s flagship event showcases architect Pete Dye’s maddening masterpiece, TPC Sawgrass, in all its glory.
Of course, this wasn’t always the case. The combination of Deane Beman and Pete Dye built today’s tournament out of an unused expanse of Florida swampland.
Commissioner Beman conceived of the “tournament players’ club” concept and showpiece TPC event in the mid 70s, hosting it at a variety of courses Eventually, Beman and company decided the Tour should host the event at a course specifically designed to both offer a thorough examination and give fans an optimal viewing experience.
The Players was contested at TPC Sawgrass for the first time in 1983 amid much negative attention, with players complaining that the course was gimmicky and unfairly penal. But the inaugural tournament winner, Jerry Pate, silenced such concerns and garnered international attention for the tournament with his outrageous victory celebration, the audacity of which has never been equalled in golf.
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Indeed, Pate’s tournament-winning pond jump was the fulfillment of a promise, the nature of which you have to understand to appreciate why the then 28-year-old dragged both the PGA Tour’s commissioner (Beman) and the course designer (Dye) into the water with him.
Interestingly, Pate had already made a jump into a water hazard after a win at Colonial the previous year. Best known for his 1976 U.S. Open win, Jerry Pate told reporters ahead of the 1982 Players Championship that if he conquered the course, he’d again make a watery leap. Only this time, Pate told reporters, he’d be taking Deane Beman and Pete Dye with him.
Pate entered the final round trailing by three strokes, so his promised leap was looking unlikely. However, on the strength of a final-round 67, complete with birdies at the 17th and 18th holes, Pate outlasted Scott Simpson and Brad Bryant for a two-stroke win.
After holing the winning putt, Pate looked around the 18th green and spotted Beman. Dragging the commissioner to the abutting water hazard he hoisted Beman into the water, who eventually relented and made a half leap into the liquid. Designer Pete Dye followed, before Pate, a swimmer in his youth, executed a perfect shallow racing dive in the most iconic images in the history of the tournament.
Unfortunately, Pate’s victory and celebration didn’t establish a precedent for dunking the commissioner. However, it did put The Players Championship on the map, making it one of the most recognizable events on the PGA Tour calendar outside of the majors.