High school biology teacher looks to make the most of his 'Tin Cup' moment at the US Open


PINEHURST, N.C. — Colin Prater feels a little like Kevin Costner’s character in “Tin Cup” this week — a relative unknown who suddenly finds himself thrust onto one of golf’s biggest stages at the U.S. Open.

It’s a movie Prater is quite familiar with, which is why he and his caddie staked out a spot at the far right end of the practice range — just in case things went completely awry.

“It was funny we were joking before we got out here, like, we’re not going to the left side of the range just because we didn’t want that dreaded S-word to kick in,” Prater said with a laugh, referring to Costner’s character who developed a case of the shanks before his round. “We didn’t want that moment of, ‘turn your hat around, put your things in the other pocket.’”

You can’t blame Prater for being a little nervous.

After all, his full-time job is as a biology teacher and golf coach at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He got a spot at Pinehurst by finishing second at a 36-hole qualifier in Bend, Oregon. He’s one of 73 qualifiers to emerge from 9,522 entrants.

The 29-year-old teacher is considered one of the top amateur players in Colorado, but he’s never been to a U.S. Open let alone played in one.

So the experience, he said, has been surreal.

He played a practice round Monday with Sahith Theegala and Will Zalatoris. On Tuesday he was paired with defending U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark. And on Wednesday, he played nine holes with 2015 champion Jordan Spieth and Sam Burns.

After he walked off the practice green Wednesday, he introduced himself to Rory McIlroy — and came away with the best advice he’s received all week.

“Rory said, ‘Listen, this golf course is amazing, but you have to be patient and hit the middle of the green,’” Prater said. “It really resonated with me because at the end of the day, it’s all just golf. If I can execute the shots that I’ve hit more than a thousand times, I can do this.”

Prater has plenty of experience, although not at this level.

He was a former Division II first-team All-American at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and, in 2020, won both the Colorado Golf Association’s Amateur and Match Play. He played last month at the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship.

He’s played Pinehurst once before at the 2019 U.S. Amateur, although he failed to advance to match play.

There was a time he considered pursuing a career as a professional player, but his love of teaching kids and the idea of being a husband and father took precedence. He and his wife Madi are set to welcome their second child next month.

He considers golf a hobby.

“I have an awesome life,” Prater said. “I love being a teacher; I love being a coach. I love to see that lightbulb moment in a kids’ eyes when biology starts to make sense, and they fall in love with it. And I love to see a beginner golfer pick up the game and fall in love with and want to work to get better. But most of all, I love being a father.”

So he has no immediate plans to try to join the PGA Tour even if things go extraordinarily well at Pinehurst.

In his mind, this week as already been a “win,” getting to play three practice rounds at one of the world’s most famous courses while walking around inside the ropes with the best players in the world.

Entering Thursday’s opening round he has one goal: he wants to make the cut.

“I would love to play golf for four days,” Prater said. “I think that’s attainable, I think that’s achievable. If I can take care of business and don’t let the moment get too big for me, if I don’t look at the grandstand and get freaked out by it all.

Or get the shanks.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf



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