Career amateur Billy Joe Patton dies at 88

Bobby Jones (right) presents the silver cup trophy to Billy Joe Patton, the low amateur in the 1954 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Patton, who died Jan. 1 at age 88, finished one stroke out of a playoff between Ben Hogan (second from left) and champion Sam Snead (background).

 MORGANTON, N.C. – Billy Joe Patton, a fast-swinging, gregarious career amateur who nearly won the 1954 Masters, died Jan. 1.

He was 88. No cause of death was listed, according to a news obituary in The News Herald of Morganton.

William Joseph Patton, a lumber broker in his native Morganton, was one of the most accomplished amateurs of the post-World War II era. He won three Carolinas Amateurs, three North & South Amateurs and two Southern Amateurs - the last at age 43 - among his many championships and played on five Walker Cup teams. In 1982, the USGA honored the long-hitting Patton with the Bob Jones Award for sportsmanship.

The Billy Joe Patton Trophy goes to the winner of the North Carolina Amateur, which Patton won in 1964.

Yet, for all of Patton’s accomplishments on the course, his claim to fame might be for a tournament that he failed to win: that ‘54 Masters, one of his 13 consecutive trips to Augusta National.

In the final round, he made a hole-in-one at the par-3 sixth hole to surge into contention before dumping his second shot into Rae’s Creek at No. 13 en route to a double bogey. He would fall one shot short of a playoff between Ben Hogan and eventual champion Sam Snead. 

Patton didn’t let his brush with a green jacket bother him. He was quoted at the time as saying to the gallery, “This is no funeral. Let’s smile again.’’

Patton, a Wake Forest graduate and Navy veteran of World War II, was a widower. He is survived by three children, five grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

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