This game has its own rhythm, its own cycle, its own timing. This has been very true for Pat O’Donnell, who started strong in the game, left it for a while, and then came back to build an unmatched amateur career.
When he was 10 years old, his parents joined Columbia Edgewater Country Club in Portland, and Pat took to the game right away.
“I hung around the golf course all the time,” he recalls. “Probably way too much. The staff there finally decided to put me to work.” He started out as a caddie on weekends, then moved on to the driving range and outside services, and eventually helping out in the pro shop.
His game got good quickly. As a 15-year-old freshman, he made the varsity golf team at Grant High School, and also won the Columbia Edgewater junior club championship.
Although he also loved playing baseball, it was golf that had the stronger pull on him. He played on the men’s golf team for two years at Mt. Hood Community College, and competed in the 1972 U.S. Amateur, all while continuing to work at Columbia Edgewater during this time.
Under the guidance of Jerry Mowlds, the Hall of Fame PGA Professional at Columbia Edgewater, Pat entered the PGA professional program in 1975 and continued to work in the club’s pro shop, playing in regional PGA Section events. A potential sponsor approached him about trying to play as a touring pro, but Pat turned it down. “I have no regrets about that decision,” he would say later. “I knew it wasn’t for me.”
Then life came along and, feeling restless, Pat wanted to move on. He left the golf business, got married, had two children, and began a long career working in the Boeing facility in northeast Portland. Pat played a lot of competitive softball during these years, and, after regaining his amateur status in 1981, competed in the occasional company golf league events.
A natural athlete, he was still able to compete on the golf course despite not putting much attention into his game. In 1982 he won the Columbia Edgewater men’s club championship, then in 1993 won the men’s club championship at Riverside Golf and Country Club, and the 1996 men’s club championship at Portland’s Broadmoor Golf Course.
But he went through a divorce in 1996, and took another hiatus from golf for a few years.
It was during the early 2000s that Pat began to have a shift. “I was seeing all these guys I knew playing in the state and regional championships, and I started thinking, ‘I used to play with these guys, maybe I can get it going again,’” he recalls. “That’s what got me back into it, the thought that maybe I can still do this after all.”
He sought the help of PGA instructor Keith Sanden, who he had known from his earlier days at Columbia Edgewater. Sanden suggested some tweaks to Pat’s posture and grip, and helped him get fitted for better clubs to fit his six-foot frame. The improvement was immediate.
“It’s odd, but all that time off seemed to help my swing,” Pat says, looking back. “It was like a fresh start, but with a better foundation.”
The other factor working in Pat’s favor was the ticking of time. “I turned 50 in late 2003, and suddenly I was eligible to play in a lot of events.”
And play he did.
His first state title came in 2007, when he won the Oregon Stroke Play Championship, and the floodgates opened. Over the next 15 years, he compiled a list of titles unmatched in regional golf circles. Ten more Stroke Play titles; six Oregon Senior Amateur titles; seven senior titles in the Royal Oaks Invitational; 10 Oregon Best-Ball titles (with partner Ken Forster, himself a PNGA Hall of Famer). He won five more club championships, all of them at Arrowhead Golf Club in Molalla, Ore.
Pat was also named to 15 Senior Hudson Cup teams, and 12 times was named to the OGA team for the PNGA Lamey Cup. He was named PNGA Senior Men’s Player of the Year three times (2009, 2016, 2019) and the OGA Men’s Player of the Year four times (2009, 2016, 2018, 2019).
He has also qualified for 11 USGA national championships. Of the eight U.S. Senior Amateurs he played in, his most memorable was the 2013 championship, when he made it to the final match, finishing runner-up to champion Douglas Hanzel.
What also made that event memorable was having his wife Sue, who he had met on a blind date in 2000, in the gallery. “She was able to see what it was all about for me,” Pat says. “She understood how important it was, and how much it meant.”
Pat qualified for two U.S. Senior Opens. In his first championship, in 2012, he remembers playing a practice round with Oregon-native Peter Jacobsen (who won the championship in 2004). “Peter really took care of all of us Oregon players whenever we made it to a national event,” he says.
Pat retired from Boeing in early 2016, which allowed him to devote more time to playing in events. He has shot his age 44 times (and counting). Sue also retired in 2016, and has now taken up the game, also working with Sanden as her instructor.
He credits Sanden, who he still seeks out when his swing needs some attention, for steering him toward this renaissance.
“I played a lot of golf when I was young,” Pat says now. “I was really into it, and gave it everything I had at the time. I’m very lucky to have been given a second chance at it. It’s something I’m very aware of. The people I’ve been able to meet over the past two decades, and the places I’ve been, are all because of this game. It was unexpected, and it’s been a great ride.”
- U.S. Senior Amateur Quarterfinalist – 2012
- U.S. Senior Amateur Runner-up – 2013
- U.S. Senior Open Participant – 2012, 2014
- Oregon Senior Amateur Champion – 2008, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019
- Oregon Senior Men’s Stroke Play Champion – 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021
- Oregon Tournament of Champions, Men’s Champion – 1983, 1984
- Oregon Tournament of Champions, Senior Men’s Champion – 2018, 2019, 2021
- PNGA Senior Team Champion – 2015, 2019
- PNGA Senior Amateur Champion – 2019
- Oregon Super Senior Champion – 2019
- Royal Oaks Invitational – 10 titles overall
- OGA Men’s Player of the Year – 2009, 2016, 2018, 2019
- PNGA Senior Men’s Player of the Year – 2009, 2016, 2019
- PNGA Lamey Cup Participant – 12 times
- Senior Hudson Cup Team – 15 times
- Qualified for 11 USGA Championships
- Inducted into Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame – 2022