Years Later, Inaugural Participants Pursue Careers in Golf

Winners of the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals
Back row from the left, Patrick Welch, Bryson Bianco, Natalie Pietromonaco, and Hunter Pate along with front row from the left, Lucy Li, Leo Cheng, Treed Huang, and Kelly Xu all winners of the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday April 6, 2014.
Rusty Jarrett/Rusty Jarrett/Augusta National

Opportunity was knocking in the fall of 2013, only children tend to be too busy to pay attention.

Now that they've etched their place in history, the participants of the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals can look back with gratitude for those who heard the knocking and set things in motion.

“I had no idea what it was, but my dad saw it advertised on Golf Channel, something about going to the Masters,” said Hunter Pate. Her father saw a television commercial about qualifying in 2013, then told his daughter, “You are 100 percent in that!”

Patrick Welch heard about the 2014 Drive, Chip and Putt from Dave Adamonis, who runs an elite junior golf circuit in New England. “This is a no-brainer, to maybe go to a place where you might never get a chance to see again,” Adamonis told Welch, who was nonchalant at the time.

‘‘Sure, why not?” said the youngster from Rhode Island.

Jackie Gonzalez’s father signed her up for the local qualifier, and the memory still makes her laugh. “Then he forgot to tell me until the night before,” she said.

For Hanna Alberto, credit goes to a younger sister, Leah. “She pointed it out and said, ‘You could go to the Masters,’ ” said Hannah. “I said, ‘That can’t be real.’ ”

But it surely was — and still is today.

Hunter Pate competes in the Girls 14-15 division
Hunter Pate competes in the Girls 14-15 division of the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday April 6, 2014.
Charles Laberge/Charles Laberge/Augusta National

The DCP National Finals will return this year after being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. In tandem with the second edition of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the DCP helps realize Augusta National Golf Club’s mission to inspire greater interest and participation in the game.

Take a sweeping study of that inaugural Class of 2014 and you’ll discover plenty of evidence that the mission has strong footing. The passion for golf was hardly a passing fancy; it remains intense for the youths who competed in April 2014. Many of them have continued on a path that combines education with golf.

Winners of the 14-15 Boys and Girls divisions in 2014, respectively, Welch and Pate are fixtures on their collegiate teams. He plays for the University of Oklahoma, she for Long Beach State.

Alberto, who finished second in her division in 2014, is a senior at Sam Houston State and ranked No. 107 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. Having qualified for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur for the second time, she shot 77-74 at Champions Retreat Wednesday and Thursday to qualify for Saturday’s third and final round, her first time back at Augusta National since that magical year of 2014.

Hanna Alberto of the United States plays from the No. 1 tee during the final round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur on Saturday.

Gonzalez, who competed in the 14-15 age division in 2014, used her passion for golf as a vehicle to attend Holy Cross. She played on the women’s team for four years and says that “golf has helped open a lot of doors.”

Gonzalez works as an assurance associate for PwC in Boston, where winter is giving way to spring, so she’ll soon be in position to play the game she loves. With the Masters dominating golf interest this week, she knows which part of the festivities will steal her attention.

“I take a lot of pride in having qualified, and every time I think of it or talk about it, it’s always a great memory,” she said.

While winning their age division was a thrill for both Welch and Pate, each of them concedes that it was the overall experience that is with them forever.

“Even after my father signed me up and I won two qualifiers, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Pate. “Then, when we got there and drove down Magnolia Lane . . . well, that’s where it really hit me.”

By that point in his young career, Welch had faced a lot of inquiries about his grip – a righthader, he holds the club cross-handed, with his left hand low.

“You didn’t know how it was going to go, but I guess it gave me a lot more recognition,” said Welch, who used the DCP victory to build his confidence and take on more national competition.

I wasn't sure what to expect. Then, we got there and drove down Magnolia Lane...well, that's where it really hit me.
Hunter Pate

Golf is also still central to the lives of the other winners of that first Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.

Bryson Bianco, winner of the Boys 12-13 division, now plays for Troy State in Alabama.

The 10-11 winners were Leo Cheng, now a high school senior who plays AJGA events, and Lucy Li, who later in 2014 became the youngest qualifier for a U.S. Women’s Open, at age 11. Today, she plays professionally on the Symetra Tour.

Both Treed Huang and Kelly Xu, winners of the 8-9 divisions, have continued to succeed in golf. Huang returned to win the Drive, Chip and Putt at Augusta in 2019, while Xu is 21st in the latest AJGA girls’ ranking.

Kasey Maralack of Snoqualmie, Wash., was in the inaugural class and this year will mark her fourth trip to the National Finals.

2018 Masters
Kasey Maralack of the Girls 12-13 division putts on the 18th green during the 2018 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.
Sam Greenwood/Sam Greenwood/Augusta National

Another notable name in 2014 was a 12-year-old named Akshay Bhatia. Tall and lean back then, he has gotten taller and leaner – only at 19 he’s a professional golfer who is playing this week’s Valero Texas Open, his 13th tournament on the PGA Tour.

In addition to Alberto, this year’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur field includes Alexa Pano, who failed to win her division in the 2014 DCP but returned two other times to triumph. Pano also played in the 2019 ANWA.

“The (ANWA) is really cool, the biggest event and greatest stage I’ve ever competed on,” said Alberto. “But I’ll never forget the Drive, Chip and Putt. I was just 14, cameras were everywhere, and all of a sudden, I saw Bubba Watson.

“I’m a big fan. I usually see him on TV, but I was star-struck to see him in person.”

Seeing Watson is also etched in Gonzalez’s memory, as was meeting former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “But really, the entire time we were treated like royalty — it was fantastic,” she said.

“And when I watch it now, I just keep thinking that these players are so good, so young and this competition is a big reason why.”

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