Hunter Pate and Patrick Welch are kindred spirits. On April 6, 2014, they shared an experience that will bond them for a lifetime.
Pate and Welch are two of the original winners of the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National Golf Club. Their success – in golf and in life – has taken them on similar paths and the next step for the pair, now high school seniors, is college golf.
Pate is heading to Long Beach State. She won the inaugural DCP competition in the Girls 14-15 division.
Welch, who hits all shots cross-handed, won the Boys 14-15 competition. He will play college golf in the fall at the University of Oklahoma.
The excitement for what’s next is palpable but, truth be told, it still falls short of the memories of the Drive, Chip and Putt experience.
“It was way beyond anything I could have imagined,” said Hunter, 18. “The first event, the driving, I was standing in line shaking. Before tournaments, butterflies are OK. But I was trembling. It was beyond nervous, one step further.”
The first time on the grounds at Augusta National had a lasting impact on her golf future.
“It made me want to work harder and harder to see how far I could take this,” she said. “I love golf more than anything. I really enjoy it.”
Patrick said it is “Incredible knowing you’re the first one to win.”
There were so many highlights for Patrick and his father, Martin, who accompanied his son to Augusta. The pre-tournament dinner and gathering Saturday night are high on Patrick’s list.
“I wanted to have fun while I was there and this was probably one of the best experiences of my life,” said Patrick, 17. “I met Mr. (Billy) Payne and Condoleezza Rice.”
Martin Welch said, “It was absolutely epic. Everybody was walking 3, 4 feet off the ground. It was the realization that we were at Augusta.
“If Patrick believed in himself before, and I think he did, this kind of solidified it,” the father said.
The contestants in the Drive, Chip and Putt are in many cases accomplished golfers with plenty of tournament experience on their resume. They were destined to be successful but the numbers of past champions moving on to play college golf is noteworthy.
The Class of ’14 at the DCP National Finals includes 15 players either in college golf programs or committed to play there in the near future. Twelve of the finalists from the Classes of ’14 and ’15 are already in college. In total, 32 DCP alumni are playing college golf or about to be. The list includes Shane Ffrench, a 2015 winner, who committed to the University of Southern California at age 14.
Lucy Li was the 10-11 age-group winner in 2014. Two months later, she was the talk of the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2. At the time an 11-year-old sixth grade student from California, Li became the youngest to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. She missed the cut but it hardly diminished her accomplishments.
In August 2016, Li won the Junior PGA Championship in Rhode Island, while Welch was the boys runner-up in his home state, and a month later they represented the United States on the winning Junior Ryder Cup team in Minnesota.
Li’s assigned partner in the mixed doubles: Patrick Welch. It wasn’t a coincidence.
“I think they put them together because they won in that first Drive, Chip and Putt,” Martin Welch said.
The Li-Welch duo combined for nine birdies in the 15 holes they played in a lopsided 4-and-3 victory. In his singles match, Patrick won 5-and-4. He was 6-under-par through 14 holes.
Hunter’s father, Jack, has traveled the globe playing professional tennis. He’s been exposed to top-level tournament preparations.
“At Augusta National, it was as good as we’ve ever experienced,” he said. “The service they provided, the way it was put on, was unbelievable.”
Hunter and Patrick have also shared another experience since their victory at Augusta National. When they arrive at tournaments or other golf-related functions, there are stares and whispers of, “They won Drive, Chip and Putt.”
“The first year or two, definitely, there was a lot of that,” Jack Pate said. “Since then not so much. But that’s OK. Being first was something no one will ever be able to take back (from them).”