By Ian Thompson
One of the greatest players to ever play the game, 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus, will be at Old Overton Club in Vestavia Hills on Oct. 8 at a dinner to speak to the players and coaches at the 33rd Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate.
Pate, who does much, much more than just put his name on this premier men’s college golf event, is integral to the long-running success of one of the very top college golf events across the country.
Host team Alabama will welcome teams from Auburn, UAB, Samford, South Alabama, Baylor, BYU, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Michigan, UNLV and UNC-Charlotte to the 54-hole event set for Oct. 9-10 at long-time host facility Old Overton Club.
Pate always invites a speaker of note for the dinner held the night before the tournament begins, but he has taken it up a number of notches getting the Golden Bear to speak.
“After I won the 1976 U.S. Open I started playing with Jack regularly. We traveled over the years to many countries to hunt and fish, plus play in events. We became good friends,” Pate said.
“We also played in the grand opening, along with Hubert Green, of Shoal Creek in 1977.
“When I got hurt when I was 28 and dropped off the Tour, there were a lot of years I wasn’t around the tour and didn’t see Jack much.”
Pate noted that Nicklaus “loved Birmingham, particularly Shoal Creek. I think his recent renovation of Shoal Creek is one of the very best renovations I’ve seen in a very long time. I called Ron Whitten, course architecture editor at Golf Digest, to tell him that.”
Earlier this summer, Pate was playing in a Legends event in Minnesota and was on the same team as Nicklaus. He asked Nicklaus then if he would come and speak, to which he agreed.
“It will be a Q&A format. I’ll introduce Jack, who really needs no introduction, and it will just flow from there.
“Here’s one fact I plan to point out. In his first 16 years on Tour, Jack finished fourth on the money list once, third on it twice and the other 13 years he was either first or second.”
The tournament itself is open to the public, free of charge to watch.
A who’s who of golfers have participated over the 32 years and counting, including Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, UA’s own Justin Thomas, Michael Thompson and Bud Cauley, as well as Matt Kuchar, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell, Paul Casey, David Toms, David Duval, Jason Dufner, Bill Haas, Charles Howell III.
While Pate said it would be hard to top Nicklaus as guest speaker, he did mention he had former Alabama football coach Gene Stallings speak the year he led the Crimson Tide to the national championship (1992), plus former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem spoke another year.
Pate talked with great pride about the JPNI, as well as the 44th consecutive Boy Scouts golf event he hosts in his home town of Pensacola, Fla. every year.
“I love to give back to the kids and think it is very important to do so.”