Steve Pate drives a Porsche--more accurately, he drives with
one--although the golf club, while designed by the same company,
is not nearly as sleek as the German automaker's famed sports
cars. "It looks like a small Weber grill," says Pate, "a used
one after the paint has cracked."
The club certainly doesn't look like the driver of choice for a
Tour pro. But that's Pate. He doesn't care about appearances.
His irons, a chromeless, corroded set of Hogans covered with
lead tape, are even uglier. "No one looks in my bag and says,
'Boy, I like that,'" Pate says. "People look in my bag and say,
That word is likely to be repeated by the unlucky Europeans
assigned to go up against Pate in this week's Ryder Cup.
Although he was the last man selected for the U.S. team, as the
other captain's pick after the preordained choice of Tom Lehman,
Pate could wind up playing a leading role because he's the type
of golfer everyone hates to face in match play. A terrific
scrambler who's one of the Tour's better putters, Pate is a good
iron player and a fearless competitor known for streaks of
brilliance. Lee Westwood, the English Ryder Cupper, knows. He
was paired with Pate in the third round of this year's Masters,
during which Pate ran off a tournament-record seven straight
birdies. As they walked off the 13th green, where Pate had made
number 7, Westwood jokingly fanned Pate with a towel, trying to
cool him off.
Davis Love III, Brandt Jobe, Fred Couples and Eduardo Romero
know, too. They all lost to Pate during last February's World
Match Play. (He was finally eliminated, one up, by eventual
champion Jeff Maggert in the semifinals.) "He makes a lot of
birdies, and he's hungry," says Phil Mickelson. "After what
happened in '91, he wants to have a great Ryder Cup."
In 1991 Pate had his best year on Tour. He won the Honda
Classic, finished sixth on the money list and, according to Dave
Stockton, who was the '91 Ryder Cup captain, had been the most
impressive player on the squad during practice the week of the
matches at Kiawah Island, S.C. Then, on the way to the
traditional Wednesday-night gala in honor of the two teams, Pate
was in a limo that made a sudden stop, throwing him to the
floor. The car behind rear-ended the limo, and Pate slammed into
the front seat, badly bruising his left hip and side. (David
Feherty, a member of the '91 European team, later said he caused
the multicar pileup by distracting his driver, who had to brake
suddenly to avoid hitting a traffic cop. "Feherty is damn proud
of that story," Pate says with a wry smile.)
After two days of treatment Pate partnered Corey Pavin in a
four-ball match on Saturday, which they lost 2 and 1 to Bernhard
Langer and Colin Montgomerie. "I was hurting, but I played all
right," Pate says. "On the 6th hole, though, I took a wrong step
walking down one of those Pete Dye bomb craters and something
grabbed in my side. I pretty much knew then that I wasn't going
to play in singles [on Sunday]. I hit balls for a half hour the
next morning and never hit one more than 40 yards."
The car wreck at Kiawah foreshadowed a series of mishaps that
almost drove Pate out of golf. In 1995 Pate broke the driver
that he had used for years and played so poorly that he had to
cash in the one-time exemption available to the top 50 career
money winners. Then, while fiddling with the car radio on the
drive home to Agoura Hills, Calif., from the '96 Phoenix Open,
Pate rear-ended a flatbed truck that was going 25 mph. Pate was
doing 75. "I was lucky, absolutely," says Pate, who broke his
right hand, wrist and cheekbone. "I could easily have been dead.
The car wound up two feet shorter than it was when I started."
Pate capped a memorable '96 in August when he tripped on a dock
while on vacation in Lake Powell, Utah, and cracked a bone in
his other wrist.
The time he spent away from the game recuperating at
home--Steve, wife Sheri, daughters Nicole, 11, and Sarah, 10,
and their two dogs live on 10 acres in a secluded canyon
northwest of Los Angeles--had two unexpected effects. Pate took
up cooking and gained 30 pounds, some of which he still carries
("I'd love to see 190 again," he says), and he took a hard look
at himself. "I had played poorly for two years and started
thinking, Gee, maybe I'll do something else," Pate says. "Then I
saw my friends going to work every day and realized that my life
wasn't so bad. I've been more patient with my golf since then."
Patience--the lack of it--had always been a problem for Pate,
hence his nickname, the Volcano. The ground would shake around
Mount Steve, especially when he was in college, at UCLA. Sheri
says that Steve once walked through a tunnel at the swank
Bel-Air Country Club furiously smashing his club against the
cement walls. On another occasion a Bruins teammate tried to get
Pate to stop spewing obscenities by warning him that there was a
lady nearby. Pate looked up and growled, "That's no lady! That's
Pate was an equal-opportunity madman. "You name it, he has tried
to stuff it into the ground--clubs, caddies, bags, everything,"
says CBS announcer Gary McCord. "I still remember the swirling
seven-iron. He would spin around and...whomp! The ground
vibrated, the clubhead buried and the shaft oscillated like a
The Volcano, 38, is mostly dormant these days, not counting the
rumble he had last fall with a tee marker during the JCPenney
Classic. After a poor tee shot Pate tomahawked the marker with
his driver, splitting it the way young Abe Lincoln split logs.
Still, the eruptions are rarer. "I used to stay livid for four
or five hours," Pate says. "I could play pretty well livid, but
it takes a lot of energy to stay hot that long. At my age I pick
my spots. I still get mad, but there's something about nearly
dying in a car that makes a bad shot seem not as important."
Maybe that perspective explains Pate's comeback. In 1997 he
regained his exempt status and then last year won for the first
time since '92, in the CVS Charity Classic. Pate hasn't had a
victory this season, but he's on pace for the second-best year
of his career. He's 11th on the money list--higher than four of
his teammates on the U.S. side--and has a pair of seconds. In
both he shot a 66 in the final round only to be beaten, by David
Duval with his 59 in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and by Loren
Roberts, who tied Pate after regulation at the GTE Byron Nelson
Classic, then beat him with a birdie on the first playoff hole.
This week at the Country Club, Pate will have come full circle.
He's thankful that teammate Mark O'Meara put in a good word for
him with U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw, pointing out that Pate had
finished third in the '88 U.S. Open at Brookline. That may have
broken the tie Pate thought he was in with Couples.
The call from Crenshaw came at 11 on Sunday night, after the
final round of the PGA at Medinah. Pate was half asleep. "I
remember his deadpan voice," Pate says. "He said, 'Well, I've
decided on the team.' It didn't sound like it was going to be an
uplifting conversation. Then he said, 'You're on the team.' I
don't think it was easy on him. Then Ben said, 'I've got to talk
to Fred now.' He had some calls that he didn't want to make. I
was pretty excited and didn't go back to sleep for a while."
To Pate, this Ryder Cup is all about unfinished business, and
he's not going to let anything get in his way. "I've already
checked the itinerary," he says. "There's no party the night
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND Luxury box When Pate was named to the U.S. team, he earned a seat at the $5 million NEC Invitational, in which he finished 12th.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND
"I still get mad," Pate says, "but there's something about
nearly dying that makes a bad shot seem not as important."