There’s a high school teacher playing in the U.S. Open. Here’s how he got there

Colin Prater hits a bunker shot on the 11th hole during a practice round ahead of the 2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & C.C.

Colin Prater practicing at Pinehurst No. 2 this week.

USGA/Mike Ehrmann

PINEHURST, N.C. — Colin Prater first warmed to biology as a freshman at Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, Colo. His teacher, Mr. Lewis — Geoffrey to Mr. Lewis’ friends and family — had a knack for making the material both interesting and fun.

Three years later, as a senior, Colin enrolled in another of Mr. Lewis’ classes, AP Biology, a more demanding course that asks students to master core scientific principles, theories and processes. The curriculum was “really hard,” Prater, now 29, told me Tuesday behind Pinehurst No. 2’s 18th green. “I was the only student to get an A. I took a lot of pride in that.”

Prater had just wrapped a practice round at the 124th U.S. Open. We were talking bio because, well, Prater is the lone high school biology teacher in the field this week and, it’s likely safe to say, the first high school biology teacher, period, to play in a U.S. Open.

Prater’s unlikely path to Pinehurst came by way of the Open’s vast and democratic qualification system, which this year whittled 9,522 hopefuls down to just 73 qualifiers. (For those of you doing the math at home, that’s a daunting 0.7% acceptance rate.) Prater punched his ticket earlier this month at the Bend. Ore., final qualifier, where he shot 68-73 to earn one of the two coveted spots available to the 44-player field.

How Prater, who teaches at Cheyenne Mountain High, in Colorado Springs, keeps his game U.S. Open-ready between grading homework and overseeing lab experiments — not to mention coaching the school’s golf team — is a matter of clinical efficiency, especially during the school year, he said. Now that school’s out for summer, Prater has more time to work on his game but said he still tries to keep his focus on his family. While he and his wife Madi’s 20-month-year-old daughter, Blake, is napping, Prater might slip out for an hour of practice. “My philosophy is keep the fundamentals sharp,” he said. “I spend a ton of time chipping and putting.”  

Those skills will be essential this week on Pinehurst’s mind-bending inverted-saucer greens, which are about as easy to hold as a granite countertop. Ask Prater, who played in the 2019 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst Nos. 2 and 4 but failed to advance to match play. “It ate my lunch,” Prater said of No. 2. “I remember going home and saying, ‘That is the most difficult golf course I have played in my entire life.’”

Prater will tell you he’s a better, mentally stronger player today than he was five years ago, and the expert guidance he has been receiving this week should embolden him only more so. On Tuesday, Prater played with his fellow Coloradan and defending U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark. (“He has so much self-belief,” Prater said when asked what he most admires about Clark. “He believes he’s the best player in the world.”) After the round, Prater’s caddie, Cole Anderson, the Cheyenne Mountain assistant golf coach, trekked back out to the course to soak up some knowledge from Jordan Spieth’s veteran looper, Michael Greller.

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“I’m trying to cherish every moment,” Prater said of his Open experience, which will include his parents, grandparents and even some of the golfers from his high school team cheering him on from the rope line. “I feel like my game is in a really good spot, and I hit the ball really solid today. It was very encouraging.”

He has every right to feel bullish.

This may be Prater’s first U.S. Open but since his days as a junior golfer — when his grandfather would take him to the famed Colorado Springs resort The Broadmoor to watch PGA Championship winner Dow Finsterwald smooth balls on the range — to his standout years as a Colorado Springs high school golfer to his Div. II First-Team All-American days at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, Prater has remained a constant force on the Colorado amateur golf scene. In 2020, he became just the second player in nearly 40 years to win the Colorado Golf Association’s Amateur and Match Play in the same year. “I want to be the best amateur player ever from the state of Colorado,” he said.

Prater long had visions of leaving his mark on the pro game but, as he puts it, “the puzzle pieces didn’t fit.” He loved living in Colorado Springs and that other bug that had bitten him all those years ago — biology! — was still tugging at him. So, Prater decided to shelve his Tour dreams, stay home and dedicate himself to teaching.

On occasion, Prater said, he’ll mix his two passions, bringing golf or other sports references into the classroom. “But at the same time,” he added, “I want to give kids the opportunity to make their own connections. I think that’s the most important part: fostering their passions, their interests and giving them the freedom to do that.”

Look where that formula has taken their teacher.

Alan Bastable Editor

As’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.

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