AUGUSTA, Ga. – Hunter Pate insists she is going back to school Wednesday in Las Vegas.
Her father, Jack, has other ideas.
Now that Hunter has rewritten a bit of history, the elder Pate feels that his 14-year-old prodigy of a golfer deserves a bit of a break.
Hunter has racked up more than 50 tournament victories since the age of 8 – including becoming the youngest Nevada State Women’s Golf Association champion at 13 – but nothing tops what she pulled off on Sunday at Augusta National.
The eighth-grader used a consistent performance on each aspect of the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt National Championship to take the Girls’ 14-15 age division title, setting off a roar from her father that would rival both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson for 18th-hole celebrations.
“What dad wouldn’t react like that?” asked Jack, his eyes still glazed with tears of joy nearly 15 minutes after the victory.
The victory also put Hunter’s name in the decorated Augusta annals, as she is a part of a group of four female winners in the first-ever female public competition on Augusta National grounds.
“That really hasn’t hit just yet,” said Hunter, who qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links at the age of 12.
Appropriately, Augusta National member and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on hand to do the introductions behind the 18th green, where all age groups finished with a putt under Sunday hole-location conditions. And as Hunter bounded up the hill behind the 18th green after a victory interview with the Golf Channel, Rice looked at Hunter and said, “I’m so proud of you.”
“She likes players like Jason Day, Graeme McDowell and Adam Scott, but she idolizes Condoleezza Rice,” said Jack, a former tennis pro whose brother, David Pate, was a top-ranked doubles player.
“It’s all about the way she carries herself. I want to carry myself like that, too,” said Hunter, the youngest of three children, including her brother, Mitchell, who is still in high school.
While Hunter was posing with the other seven winners near the clubhouse, Rice poked her head around a tree to take a gander at the kids, offering up a big smile.
“This is a great moment for all of these kids, but also a very proud moment for our members,” said Rice.
It was also a “life-changing” moment for what Jack refers to as “Hunter’s team.” That team includes the likes of PGA Tour winners Parker McLachlin and Bob May, as well as noted teaching pro Jerry Roberts.
“It takes a team to succeed, just to get to the tournaments,” said Jack, who is a player development executive at the Venetian/Palazzo Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. His wife, Linda, is a table-game supervisor for the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino.
Jack approached Roberts as a friend to give his honest opinion about Hunter’s future in golf a few years back.
“As a pro, I get asked all the time to look at someone’s kid. Always being told that they are the best thing in the world,” said Roberts. “As soon as I saw Hunter, I saw something special. There is a spark. It’s a special spark.”
That spark was on display during Hunter’s 2013 win at the Nevada Women’s Amateur, when she found herself tied after a poor hole. Her co-leader then followed by sticking a tee ball on a par 3 to inside 5 feet, only to watch Hunter get inside of her and regain the lead.
“She’s the whole package. She is great mentally, with her strength and she has a great attitude,” said May, who has worked with Hunter for nearly two years and delayed his motorcycle trip from Las Vegas to Texas so he could watch the live event coverage Sunday morning.
“She’s not only an accomplished golfer, but she’s an accomplished student, too. She embraces the challenge. She’s mature beyond her years.”
That came in handy Sunday, when Hunter admitted to a bout with the nerves.
“It was a roller coaster out there,” said Hunter.
That roller coaster might lead her back to her “normal” school life come Wednesday, but the name Hunter Pate is now etched into history.