Alice Chen’s amateur golf career ended in storybook fashion.
And based on the opening chapter, her professional career has the makings of a pretty good story as well.
The 23-year-old Montgomery High graduate played in her final amateur event as one of the 72 golfers who earned a spot in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, which was held April 3-6, with the second half of the tournament played at Augusta National in Georgia, the home of the Masters.
The first two rounds of the 54-hole event took place at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Evans, Ga. The field was cut to 30 players after the first two rounds and Chen was not among those to make the cut. However, the entire field of players was invited to play a practice round on the Friday before the final 18 holes at Augusta National.
Chen earned her invitation to the event by finishing as one of the top 30 female amateurs in the United States for 2018 according to the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
“Playing at Augusta National was amazing,” Chen said. “It was definitely way more beautiful than I thought it would be. I teared up walking up 11 with all the flowers and just taking it all in. On the 10th hole I got to see where Bubba (Watson) hit his iconic iron shot (in 2012). I saw where Tiger (Woods) hit his famous chip shot at 16 (in 2005). So it was just so cool to have this experience.
“And it was a great experience because I got to take pictures and take in everything about the course. Normally Augusta does not allow cell phones, but we were able to have ours and take pictures. I got to meet Condoleezza Rice and Annika Sorenstam after my 18 holes. I shot a 3-under 69 with five birdies. So it was a lot of fun.”
Chen went into the event knowing it would be the final time she would play as an amateur and everything about the four days was special.
“I am so grateful to God for the opportunity for me to have that as my last amateur tournament,” Chen said. “That is all God’s doing. I could not have scripted a better swan song. I birdied my very last hole as an amateur in competition. It was a par 5 and I hit a big drive and then went for green in two with 3-wood and hit it a little past the green. Then I lag putted 60 feet downhill to within three feet and made it as a birdie putt.
“There were so many people by the green. It was so sweet to share that moment with my parents and my sister and brother-in-law. My boyfriend was on the bag and I had some of my teammates and coaches and friends who came and traveled to see me play.”
After her incredible experience at Augusta National, Chen headed to Cordele, Ga. to begin her professional career at the National Women’s Golf Association’s Lake Blackshear Resort Classic. Chen shot a 5-under par 211 for the 54-hole event to win by three strokes and earn the $5,000 first-place check.
After concluding her amateur career by playing 18 holes at Augusta National, she opened her pro career with an impressive win by three strokes. While winning her debut may have come as a surprise to some, the Furman University graduate went to the event feeling like she could win.
“I think every time you step up to play in a tournament you should envision yourself winning,” Chen said. “I try my best to practice and prepare in such a way that I can be confident and feel like I can compete with anyone out there. The transformation from amateur to pro hasn’t been too different for me I think because I understand turning pro doesn’t automatically make me a good pro. It’s the daily habits and discipline and things that make you who you are that determine the kind of golfer you are. So whether I am an amateur or a pro I am just trying to be my best and I am glad to see a lot of my hard work has paid off.”
Chen’s next tournament will take place on the Symetra Tour, which is one step below the LPGA. She’ll play in the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout at the Mystic Creek Golf Club in El Dorado, Ark. from April 26-28. Playing well on the Symetra Tour is the next step towards the ultimate goal of earning her LPGA Tour Card.
“You play the Symetra Tour to gain experience and insight and how you finish at the end of the year determines if you can get your tour card,” Chen said. “The top 10 on the money list get their LPGA cards. So you can get there with a great season on the Symetra Tour.”
In the fall there is also the opportunity to qualify for the LPGA tour through Q School qualifying tournaments. But for now, Chen is just focused on playing the events in front of her and enjoying the support she has received from family and friends.
“I’ve been able to practice at Furman and even at Clemson some, too,” said Chen, who has been training in Greenville, S.C. “My old coach from my first two years at Furman (Kelly Hester) is now the coach at Clemson.
“As far as my schedule, I just need to play in what I can get. I think it is best to play two or three tournaments and then have a couple weeks off to come back and rest and recharge and practice.”
Whatever path Chen takes as a pro, she’s started off with quite a splash.