Note: The following appears in the May issue of Orange: The Experience. For full access to all of the publication’s content, join IPTAY today by calling 864-656-2115.
Former Tiger All-American Dillard Pruitt was inducted into the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame in January. Pruitt was the 68th person inducted and the third from his family.
The ceremony took place at Columbia Country Club and many of his Clemson teammates and former head coach Bobby Robinson were on hand, a testament to his level of respect dating to his days as a young player.
Pruitt was Clemson’s first two-time All-American, as he was honored after the 1983 and 1984 seasons. He was also a three-time First-Team All-ACC selection. In 1982 as a sophomore, he helped Clemson to its first ACC championship. In 1983, the Tigers finished No. 5 in the nation, the first top-five national finish in the history of the program.
As an amateur, Pruitt won the 1982 South Carolina Amateur and the 1983 Sunnehanna Amateur. He was inducted into the Clemson Hall of Fame in 1998 and was named to the ACC 50-Year Anniversary team in 2003.
“Dillard was a freshman when I was a senior on the 1981 Clemson team, then he was a senior in my first year as a head coach,” said Larry Penley, now in his 35th year as head coach. “We go way back. He was one of the founders of our program.”
One of Penley’s favorite stories took place in 1982, when the Tigers won their first ACC title.
“In the early 1980s, some golf companies came out with colored golf balls. Jay Haas, Dillard’s brother-in-law, was already on the PGA Tour and had given Dillard some orange golf balls.
“When he came to the last hole the last day of the ACC Tournament, he pulled out an orange ball to play that last hole. I am not sure coach Robinson was thrilled with it, but I will always remember him putting out on the last hole with an orange ball to give Clemson its first ACC title.”
Pruitt became the first former Tiger to win a PGA Tour event in 1991, when he won the Chattanooga Classic. He played on the PGA Tour for nine years (1988-96) and finished in the top 105 of the money list five straight years, the second former Tiger to do that, and one of just four to do it in history.
“His victory on the PGA Tour in 1991 was big for our program,” said Penley, who was a teammate and later coach for Pruitt. “That told a lot of recruits you can come from Clemson and win on the PGA Tour. That helped in recruiting, and you can see that by what our program did shortly after that. Six years after he won in Chattanooga, Charles Warren won the NCAA championship.”
Pruitt finished 13th at the 1992 Masters, still the second-best finish by a former Tiger at the famed tournament in Augusta, Ga. His second-round 68 in that 1992 Masters is still the best by a golfer with ties to the program.
“Dillard set a standard for our future pros by winning that tournament in Chattanooga,” stated Penley. “Look at all the PGA Tour wins that have followed.”
In 1996, Pruitt retired from the PGA Tour and is now in his 20th year as a rules official on the PGA Tour.
“When PGA Tour players see Dillard coming to them for a ruling, they have a smile on their face because of his level of respect with the players,” said Penley. “They know he was a PGA Tour player for a long time and that he is going to give them a fair ruling. He has been through it from the player’s side.”
Golf has been Pruitt’s profession and vocation for just about his entire life, but his ties to Clemson are certainly a highlight.
“I don’t have a lot of trophies in my house, but one I have always kept is the 1982 ACC Championship at Clemson.
“We had a special group of guys at Clemson. We weren’t the greatest team, but we all got along and had a common goal to succeed as a team. Clemson is a very special place and will always be a special part of my life.”
Pruitt is most appreciative of the lessons he learned from both his coaches at Clemson, on the course and off.
“I can’t thank Bobby Robinson enough for his impact on my life. He recruited me and was my coach the first three years. Clemson has had a lot of success in golf, but it started with Bobby Robinson.
“Larry Penley was my teammate when I was a freshman and he was a senior (1980). He was then my head coach when I was a senior (1984) and gave me great direction.
“Larry has had a great career winning the national championship (2003) and nine ACC titles. A lot of what he learned came from what Bobby Robinson established.”
Pruitt is the third member of his family to be inducted into the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame. His uncle, Dillard Traynham (for whom he is named), and brother-in-law (Haas) have been inducted previously.
So, you can see golf was important in Pruitt’s childhood and adolescence. The Clemson golf program is fortunate that was the case, because he has been one of the most important representatives of the program for nearly his entire life.