Colorado Teacher Prater Discovers Science of U.S. Open Qualifying

By David Shefter, USGA

| Jun 11, 2024 | Village of Pinehurst, N.C.

Colorado Teacher Prater Discovers Science of U.S. Open Qualifying

Between changing diapers, developing lesson plans, coaching high school golfers and being a doting husband, Colin Prater manages to find time to keep his game sharp enough to play at the highest levels of amateur golf.

And in the 124th U.S. Open Championship at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 this week.

Meet the 29-year-old high school science teacher from Colorado Springs, Colo., who is teeing it up amongst the game’s greatest players. Prater successfully navigated both stages of qualifying, including a 3-under-par 141 at the Pronghorn Resort’s Nicklaus Course in Bend, Ore., on June 3 to earn the second of the two available spots from a field of 44 at the 36-hole final qualifier.

Of the 156 players who have assembled at Pinehurst for the year’s third major championship, Prater might be the field’s most improbable competitor. 

Only reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad has a vocation that doesn’t involve golf or college classes.

Prater has a full-time job at Cheyenne Mountain High that includes coaching the boys’ and girls’ golf teams, a wife (Madi), a 20-month-old daughter (Blake) and another child (a girl to be named Logan) who is expected to be born in July.

Last month, he missed finals week to play in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Philadelphia Cricket Club with partner Jimmy Makloski (lost in the Round of 32), then came home for a baby shower before flying to central Oregon for the final qualifier. 

“To be quite honest, I still don’t know if it has set in yet,” said Prater, who has taught biology, anatomy, environmental science, physics and chemistry. “It’s spectacular. This is so cool. It’s my holy crap moment. The last week or so has been remarkable.” 

Since getting into the field, it’s been quite a whirlwind for the former NCAA Division II All-American who posted 14 victories while at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. He appeared on “The Gravy & Sleaze” radio show on SiriusXM with two-time USGA champion Colt Knost and Colorado native Drew Stoltz, who also competed in the Four-Ball. Golf Digest and Golfchannel.com wrote profile pieces.

This under-the-radar competitor became an instant celebrity.

To get away from the chaos, Prater ditched golf for a few hours and spent the day with Blake. They went to a local park and overdosed on ice cream.

“Too much sugar,” he said. “My wife is probably mad at me for that.” 

Well, Prater remains on an emotional high. Just putting next to 15-time major champion Tiger Woods and hitting balls a few spots from Jordan Spieth and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler has made Prater as giddy as a teenager going on a first date.

Back in college, Prater might not have been prepared for such a moment. But he freely admits that he’s physically and mentally better at 29 than he was at 19. At one time, he considered turning professional, but quickly realized that wasn’t a lifestyle he desired.

And since leaving college, he’s been the Colorado Golf Association’s Player of the Year twice (2020 and 2023), while racking up five CGA titles. In 2020, he became just the second player to win the Colorado Amateur (stroke play) and Colorado Match Play in the same year. He’s also claimed the last two Colorado Mid-Amateurs.

Colin Prater will have quite a story to tell his biology/anatomy students at Cheyenne Mountain High when classes resume in late August. (USGA/Logan Whitton)

Colin Prater will have quite a story to tell his biology/anatomy students at Cheyenne Mountain High when classes resume in late August. (USGA/Logan Whitton)

Having summers off does help, but Prater admittedly doesn’t spend a ton of time at the range. During the school year, he’ll sneak out for an hour and just work on his short game at Cherokee Ridge Golf Course, a facility with a nine-hole par-3 course, and a nine-hole regulation layout.

“It’s finding those little moments in time,” said Prater. “You try to work on a certain part of your game. There’s no chance you’re going to accomplish anything if you aren’t trying to keep [practice] fundamentally based and have a little fun too.”

Last August, Prater qualified for his third U.S. Amateur, which was conducted in his backyard at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver. Prater advanced to match play and took Arizona State standout Ryggs Johnston to extra holes before bowing out in the Round of 64.

In 2016, Prater found himself paired with Wyndham Clark at a U.S. Amateur qualifier in Colorado. The two had faced each other a few times in high school – Clark is a year older – and even then, Prater saw the immense talent that would carry the Valor Christian graduate to last year’s U.S. Open title. That day, both shot the same score and qualified to play at Oakland Hills Country Club. Prater missed match play by three strokes and Clark reached the Round of 32 before being ousted by Jimmy Stanger.   

Three years later, Prater qualified for a second U.S. Amateur, this one at Pinehurst, where he missed the cut by six. 

Such disappointments might weigh heavily on some. Not Prater.

He has a great job – this fall he’ll teach biology, anatomy and sports medicine classes – a loving wife and a second child set to come next month.

That’s why Prater chose not to pursue professional golf. Teaching, not golf, became his first love. Living in the serenity of Colorado Springs, close to family and friends, gives Prater peace of mind.

His support system is neatly encased in Colorado Springs. Every Thursday night is dinner with the in-laws. His parents still live 10 minutes away. He even visits his grandparents once a week.

“I quickly realized it wasn’t all about me,” said Prater. “My decision would affect other people who I really loved and cared about. My wife and I made the decision to stay in Colorado Springs.

“Colorado Springs is beautiful. I don’t think we will ever leave. We just really like it. I’m fine with being a really good amateur player.”

Prater’s amateur schedule will have a few more major events in the coming months. Qualifying for the U.S. Open gives him exemptions into the U.S. Amateur this August at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., and the U.S. Mid-Amateur in September at Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, Va.

On Monday, he was honored to join the 15 other amateurs in this year’s field at a dinner hosted by the USGA. One comment from USGA Chief Championships Officer John Bodenhammer resonated with Prater: “The golf ball doesn’t know if you are an amateur or a pro.”

This week, Prater has reached out to Hagestad, his fellow mid-amateur who has provided great insight into what to expect this week. The 33-year-old from Newport Beach, Calif., is teeing it up in his fifth U.S. Open, all since 2017.

Prater also spent Tuesday playing a practice round with Clark and fellow Coloradoan Mark Hubbard. He’s still working up the courage to approach Woods and shake his hand. Michael Greller, the longtime caddie for Spieth, has been helpful.

He’ll have some familiarity on the bag with Cole Anderson, the Cheyenne Mountain assistant golf coach and a golf buddy, serving as his caddie. 

Other good luck texts and social media posts have come from several former students, and at least a dozen work colleagues have done the same. 

Whether Prater plays the weekend or not, he will leave Pinehurst with an incredible experience.

“Obviously, I love golf and I want to play well, and do everything in my power to make that happen,” said Prater. “But I also joke that my daughter doesn’t care if I shoot 65 or 85.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.