When his final putt dropped on the 18th hole at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., W&J golfer Cade Patterson had made history for the Presidents’ Athletic Conference.
The Penn-Trafford graduate used a final-round 67 to jump 21 spots on the NCAA Division III championship leaderboard and finish tied for ninth. That made him the first men’s golfer from the PAC to crack the top 10 in the national championship.
“Before that, I was in a little bit of a lull in terms of consistency,” Patterson said. “I’d shoot a real low score and then a higher score. Working with (W&J) coach (Matt) Kluck and having that blessing, we continued to work and get better at managing the game.
“I just felt I was swinging the club good enough, and my plan coming into the round was very good. My game management felt extremely good as well.”
The journey to the upper reaches of the national leaderboard took 72 holes. But those were just the final steps in an odyssey that saw its share of detours.
W&J wasn’t his first stop as a golfer. Golf, in fact, wasn’t even his first college sport.
Golf, Patterson explained, was his secondary sport at Penn-Trafford. His focus was on baseball, and, when tryouts for the Warriors golf team would come up in the summer, he would dust off his clubs and head out to the course to earn his spot.
He said he was just “OK” at golf. Mostly, he did it for enjoyment.
After high school, Patterson enrolled at Cal (Pa.), where he was a member of the baseball team in 2020. He played in five of the Vulcans’ first 12 games — he collected three hits in 13 at-bats and scored a pair of runs — before the covid-19 pandemic brought the season to a halt.
Back home and with activities limited by pandemic restrictions, Patterson decided to play more golf. That’s when he found his love for the game and made up his mind that, when he returned to college, he would switch sports.
He enrolled at Eckerd, a Division II school in St. Petersburg, Fla., but after one season, he found the move wasn’t to his liking.
“It just wasn’t a good fit for me personally. I wasn’t a fan of it,” said Patterson, a devout Christian. “So I decided to come up to W&J with coach (Matt) Kluck. I had some buddies who went to W&J and said it was a great school.
“I went, and I love it, and it’s a great fit and I won’t be leaving.”
Sticking around will allow Patterson to potentially pile up some more PAC hardware. Before nudging into the top 10 at the national tournament, he helped the Presidents win the PAC team title.
W&J was third after the fall portion of the conference championships but came back strong in the spring leg to rally from a 13-stroke deficit and edge Allegheny by a shot. It was the 21st PAC title for the Presidents, and Patterson earned spring medalist honors with a 2-under-par 68.
“I knew he had it in him the whole time,” said Kluck, in his eighth season at W&J, about Patterson’s big spring. “He’s got the talent, and it showed up at the right time. I knew he was capable of playing that way. He just had to get the numbers down on the scorecard the way we wanted.
“He putts the ball well, and he drives the ball very well. He keeps it in play, and he drives it far enough. His putting really shaped up toward the end of the year. … He doesn’t have a whole lot of weaknesses.”
At the NCAA championships, Patterson opened with a 68 and followed it with rounds of 75 and 77 to sit in 30th heading into the final round. He played his front nine in 1-under 35 and used a clutch par on the par-3 ninth to gain momentum heading into the inward nine.
A poor tee shot left him in the rough, and he chipped up to about 15 feet. Patterson managed to roll in the putt for par, and that sent him on his way. He played the back nine bogey free and carded four birdies, including on the closing hole to secure his spot in the top 10 and in PAC history.
“The putter really started to head up on the back nine,” Patterson said. “I was feeling comfortable with where my game is at. … I knocked in a few putts on the back nine to give myself a good score at the end of the day.”
Patterson has two years of eligibility remaining, though he said he is not sure he will use both. At the very least, he can try to add to his trophy case next season. The key, he said, will be continuing to perfect the art of managing his game: taking what his swing is giving him in a given round rather than trying to force the issue.
“It’s knowing what club and what shot you’re about to hit and whether you’ve been swinging that certain shot well that day,” he said. “(If) the pin is tucked in the back of corner (of the green) and I haven’t been hitting my lower irons great, I’m just going to hit to the middle of the green and give myself a chance at birdie and, at worst, walk out with a par.
“I think it’s the players who are in touch with their game and where it’s at that day. … What you notice with a lot of good amateurs and really good professionals is, on those days that they may not have their best game, they still shoot well because they understand that and they play accordingly to what their game is showing them that day. … I think I’m starting to understand.”
Patterson plans to have a packed summer of competitive golf. He will be trying to qualify for some of the state’s biggest tournaments, including the Pennsylvania Open and Pennsylvania Amateur.
That, Kluck said, should help Patterson’s development. As he gets more experience with high-level competition, Kluck said, Patterson can go far.
“The more he exposes himself to (better competition), the better he’s going to become,” the coach said. “Because he just thrives on competition. He loves it. He works hard at his game, he likes the game and he’s going to get the rewards.”