100 in 100: Burke County’s Billy Joe Patton, an amateur golf legend

The Morganton native played on five Walker Cup teams, captaining the U.S. team in 1969

Morganton’s Billy Joe Patton, who competed as an amateur during his golf career, was tied for the lead on the final day of the 1954 Masters at Augusta National. (AP Photo)

North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.

Burke County

Billy Joe Patton

No amateur golfer has ever won The Masters. But Billy Joe Patton came close in 1954.

A lumber salesman from Morganton who at the age of 32 earned his invitation to Augusta by being an alternate on the Walker Cup the previous year, Patton catapulted himself into contention for the green jacket on Sunday after making a hole-in-one on the par-3 sixth hole.


He was tied for the lead until his 225-yard approach shot on the par-5 13th came up short into Rae’s Creek, leading to a double bogey. Two holes later, he put his ball into the pond guarding the 15th green. And yet, despite those bobbles, Patton still came within an 18-foot putt of qualifying for a playoff with eventual champion Sam Snead and fellow Hall of Famer Ben Hogan.

Billy Joe Patton, left, and Ken Venturi shake hands after they shot around together in second round of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia, on April 4, 1958. Venturi fired a par-72 to take low honors while Patton carded a 69 to tie for the runner-up spot. (Horace Cort / AP Photo)

Although Patton didn’t win the title, his aggressive style and engaging personality won over the patrons at Augusta National and made him a popular figure in each of his subsequent 12 trips to the Masters. “If anyone ever created a stir in golf, he did,” the tournament’s legendary founder Bobby Jones said upon presenting Patton with his low amateur medal in 1954. “He has no cause for regret because he finished one stroke behind the two greatest golfers in the world.”

Patton was an accomplished player in his own right. He simply chose not to turn pro and played his entire career as an amateur. He played on five Walker Cup teams, serving as captain in 1969. He was so respected that the USGA presented the Wake Forest graduate with its Bobby Jones Award for sportsmanship in 1982.

His impressive resume included three North and South Amateur titles at his favorite course, Pinehurst No. 2, two Carolinas Amateurs and two Southern Amateurs. He was so successful that the winner’s trophy at the North Carolina Amateur is named in his honor.