Pate, who studied at the University of Alabama, was first an amateur golfer, professional golfer before he was in 1975. The following year he won the U.S. Open and so his only major golf tournament. In 1976, he was with Dave Stockton runner-up in the Golf World Cup for men in Palm Springs behind the Spaniards Seve Ballesteros and Manuel Pinero.
He was also winner of the 1977 Phoenix Open. 1982 Pate was finally winning at the Players Championship, the most valuable event of the North American professional golf tournament series PGA TOUR.