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Meet the 29-year-old biology teacher who will compete in U.S. Open at Pinehurst

June 7th, 2024

Thirteen years ago, Ben Crenshaw and his design partner, Bill Coore, completed a $2.5 million restoration of Donald Ross’ Pinehurst No. 2. The project, among many aims, eliminated over 35 acres of irrigated turf, and 650 irrigation heads, while reintroducing natural areas of sand, wiregrass and pine straw.

It was a massive push toward sustainability that Colin Prater can appreciate.

Prater, a 29-year-old mid-amateur whose day job involves teaching biology to over 120 ninth graders at Cheyenne Mountain High in Colorado Springs, Colorado, will often integrate his two passions, science and golf. Discussing ecosystems? Golf courses such as Pinehurst are great examples, Prater says, of the positive impact humans can have on the planet.

“The kids love it,” Prater jokes, “because I’ll just keep talking and we won’t get anything done, and they’re like, ‘Oh, Prater talked for 45 minutes today about a lake on a golf course.’”

Just wait until next school year, kids.

Prater will soon have quite the story to tell, about how the former D-II standout and now educator and high-school golf coach qualified for his first major championship and then competed alongside the best players in the world at next week’s 124th U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

He just doesn’t know exactly how that story is going to play out yet.

“I feel like it’s going to be crazier and more awesome than even I’m dreaming about,” Prater said via phone Wednesday evening, two days after he earned one of two spots out of the final qualifier at Pronghorn Resort’s Nicklaus Course in Bend, Oregon; he got up and down on each of the final two holes to edge Trevor Simsby by a shot. “I think I kind of know what to expect, but I still don’t know how I’m going to react. Like what if some kid wants my autograph? That’s not a question I’ve ever been asked. Do I carry my own Sharpie? Or what if I walk out on the range and just see Tiger Woods? I don’t know if I’m going to lose it or what.”

As a youngster growing up in Colorado Springs, Prater would wear red on Sundays just like Woods. He’d do everything else like either his grandfather, legendary high-school football coach Carl Fetters, or Dow Finsterwald, the late PGA champ who tied for third at the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. Fetters, who has coached in the Colorado Springs area for over six decades now, was a member at The Broadmoor when Prater was first learning the game, and on some days, between baseball practices, he’d sit Prater on the range a few spots from Finsterwald and tell his grandson, “Just watch him.”

As Fetters explained in a video honoring Prater as the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame Person of the Year in 2021, the suggestion was “because of how smooth he hit the ball, and every swing was the same.”

Prater representers Finsterwald always stressing about grip pressure, how a tight grip led to tight arms, tight shoulders and, worst of all, a tight head.

“He’d tell me something,” Prater said, “and for the next two weeks that’s the only thing we’d focus on, whatever the heck Dow said.”

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Prater was a three-sport athlete at Palmer High, the oldest high school in Colorado Springs, playing golf, baseball and basketball for the Terrors, who donned school colors of brown and white. He gave up the latter two sports, however, after dislocating his right collarbone and injuring his right elbow during his junior year.

Never a primary focus, golf suddenly became a ticket to college for the undersized Prater, who started at D-II Colorado Mesa in Grand Junction and captured the Phil Mickelson Award as D-II’s national freshman of the year. He then transferred to Colorado State-Colorado Springs, which offered him the full ride that the University of Colorado didn’t, and he ended up capping his collegiate career as a four-time All-American and with 14 individual victories.

“I got lucky a couple times,” Prater contends, modestly.

Added Prater’s longtime swing coach, Todd Laxson: “Colin has a confidence about him that you’re not ever going to hear. … He is never afraid of the result of a golf shot that he hits.”

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When he graduated in May 2019, Prater made plans to move to Phoenix and begin his professional golf career. He’d found a place to live, acquired some financial backing and locked in a job to pay for the rest. But first he’d need to complete his student-teaching requirement that fall at Doherty High in Colorado Springs.

Before he finished the semester, he realized he no longer wanted to chase golf professionally.

“I really fell in love with teaching,” said Prater, whose now-wife but girlfriend at the time, Madi, whom also transferred to UCCS after a year, also didn’t want to leave family in Colorado Springs. So, Prater stayed put, accepting a full-time position at Doherty.

For the last few years, Prater has taught and served as the assistant boys and girls golf coach at Cheyenne Mountain High, where most of his family went and where his granddad coached for most of his career; Fetters was the school’s first Hall of Fame inductee. Prater married Madi in October 2021, and the couple, which has a 20-month-old daughter, Blake, is expecting a second child in about six weeks.

“I 100% would make the same decision again,” Prater said. “I really love teaching. I really love coaching. I really love having a family now. Being a husband and a dad is the coolest thing on planet earth. Golf is just a hobby.”

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Albeit a hobby that he’s excelled at. Prater is one of just two players to have won Colorado’s state amateur (twice), mid-amateur (twice, each of the past two years) and match play. During a six-week stretch in Summer 2020, he captured the amateur, match play and took home low-amateur honors at the Colorado Open. He’s competed in three U.S. Amateurs, including at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2019 and last year at Cherry Hills, where he advanced to match play as dozens of family presenters and students came to watch.

“Still the best golf swing I’ve ever made in my life,” Prater says of the 4-iron he hit for his third shot on the par-4 finishing hole to save bogey and force extra holes against Arizona State’s Ryggs Johnston, who’d go on to win in overtime.

And a couple weeks ago, Prater and partner, Air Force assistant Jimmy Makloski, qualified for the Round of 32 at the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Philadelphia Cricket Club.

Not bad for a guy who is lucky if he can sneak away for a couple hours of uninterrupted practice once per week at Cherokee Ridge, a public facility on the west side of town that features nine regular holes and nine par-3 holes.

“I probably practiced more in the two days leading up to the Four-Ball than I did the first five months of the year,” Prater said.

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That said, he intentionally didn’t plan on touching a club on Thursday, a day after he got home from Bend at 1 a.m. local time and later fielded about a half-dozen interview requests while also squaring away his travel and lodging for his major debut. Exhausted, Prater instead planned to spend a day with his daughter, going to the park and getting ice cream, before he leaves town again this weekend.

Blake will stay home next week with Madi, who, Prater says, will be glued to the TV.

“She’ll probably be a nervous wreck if I make a bogey or something,” Prater said. “I already told her that’s going to happen. It’s Pinehurst.”

Regardless of how many bogeys he ends up carding, Prater is just happy to be fulfilling a lifelong dream – a dream, he admits, was “probably a dream that you pretty much think is out of reach.”

Only now it is.

Prater was already thinking about potential practice-round pairings. He would especially love to play with reigning U.S. Open champion and Colorado native Wyndham Clark, whom Prater competed against when he was younger.

“I don’t know, I’m going to be starstruck by 60 of the dudes who are there,” Prater said. “Maybe I’ll just wait on the first tee for hours and see if there’s an opening.”

He’ll have plenty for conversation.

And who knows? Maybe he’ll teach the pros a thing or two.

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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