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Science teacher, U.S. Open qualifier Colin Prater plays practice round with Jordan Spieth

PINEHURST, N.C. – Colorado native Colin Prater, a four-time Division II collegiate All-American, planned to make a go of professional golf. He secured financial backing to move to Arizona and commence the chase – mini-tours, Q-School, the gamut.

Only he realized there was a lifestyle he liked better: raising a family, being home for the big moments, consistent income. It might be considered a normal life, but it’s a pretty good one: high school biology teacher, husband and father, with a second baby due in the next few weeks.

This week, Prater’s “normal” life is anything but. He’s the epitome of the U.S. Open, this country’s national championship which offers a seat at the table to any amateur (with a 0.4 handicap index or better) who can shoot the scores across 18-hole Local Qualifying and 36-hole Final Qualifying.

Prater did so – qualifying on Golf’s Longest Day in Oregon – and his week at Pinehurst No. 2 has been a case study in controlling the fandom inside, as he prepares for one of the toughest tests of golf he’ll ever face. It has also been what some recreational golfers might call a fantasy: practice rounds on Monday with Will Zalatoris; Tuesday with Wyndham Clark and Mark Hubbard (an all-Colorado grouping); and Wednesday with Jordan Spieth and Sam Burns.

Prater, 29, teaches biology to roughly 120 freshmen at Cheyenne Mountain High in Colorado Springs. He also coaches the boys’ and girls’ golf teams, and he’ll sometimes sneak out to play four or six holes after practice. There’s more golf in the summers (which are pristine in Colorado), but he’s just as happy spending time with his young family.

Competing in the U.S. Open, though, is the perfect summer vacation.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was a dream of mine from when I was a little kid,” Prater said Wednesday. “Originally, I would love to play golf on the PGA TOUR. Now, as my priorities have shifted, it was, ‘Man, I would love to play in a PGA TOUR event one day.’

“Never thought it was going to be of this magnitude.”

Prater, often the one giving lessons, was on the other side Wednesday at Pinehurst No. 2. He relished the chance to observe accomplished TOUR winners Spieth and Burns at work, while also remaining similarly diligent in his preparation around Donald Ross’ famed turtleback greens (which are slated to run in the mid-13s on the Stimpmeter this week), experimenting with chip shots to a variety of possible hole locations on the front nine.

Prater enjoyed lively conversation with Spieth and his longtime caddie Michael Greller, who spent time as a fifth- and sixth-grade math teacher in Washington state before caddying Spieth to victory at the 2011 U.S. Junior (on the referral of Justin Thomas), kick-starting a career transition to full-time caddie. That meant there were two teachers in that practice grouping Wednesday – a quintessential U.S. Open scene.

“Michael said he wasn’t smart enough to teach science,” cracked Spieth.

“We had a great time today,” Spieth continued, “finding out where he’s from, what he does … pretty cool experience to be here. It’s got to be such a cool feeling, when you’re the coach of these guys and they look up to you and you get some street cred playing in the U.S. Open, so pretty awesome experience.”

Prater strives to be one of the best amateur golfers in Colorado’s history, and he’s off to a good start – he has qualified for three U.S. Amateurs, and he advanced to match play at the 2023 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills. He’s a two-time Colorado Golf Association Player of the Year, a number that could swell over time.

But golf isn’t everything. It’s the perfect competitive outlet to round out his life. His comportment is a lesson in what’s important – as Scottie Scheffler has said for years, the best part of life is sharing it with those around you. Professional golf can be a lonely endeavor; Prater challenges himself daily to connect with his students and make a difference in their lives.

“You definitely have to have priorities, and golf doesn’t get put on the front burner, right? It gets put on the back burner for sure,” Prater said. “There are way more important things than playing golf.”

In a month that earned him a tee time at his national championship and practice rounds with multiple major champions, perhaps the coolest part, he said, was hearing from so many former students who offered congratulations on qualifying to compete at Pinehurst.