Succeeding Together contest winners: Where are they now?
For three young golfers, getting to play with a pro at the Wells Fargo Championship was a dream come true. See what they’re up to today.
We asked past winners of the Succeeding TogetherSM program essay contest about their experiences playing in the Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am in Charlotte, North Carolina.
2013: Reyhan Griffin
Wearing a brightly colored outfit to match his golfing idol, Reyhan electrified the Wells Fargo Championship crowd — and earned high fives from the PGA Tour’s Rickie Fowler — by parring the very first hole of his pro-am round in 2013.
Representing The First Tee of San Francisco, Reyhan punched it out of the pine straw and over the bunkers guarding the green to a few feet past the cup, and then sank the tricky downhill putt.
Today, Reyhan, 17, is the No. 2 golfer on the golf squad at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco — the same high school that has produced U.S. Open champs Johnny Miller and Ken Venturi.
He holds a 3.89 GPA while taking two advanced placement classes as part of plans to study engineering at a four-year university. In March, he won the George Archer Flight in the 2016 San Francisco City Golf Championship.
“When I was selected in the first Succeeding Together essay contest, I had so many feelings go through me: fear, excitement, and anxiety,” he says. “The highlight was hearing my name announced on the first tee. I was so nervous but used the confidence I gained through all my practice sessions.
“I learned so much from my experience, from being on a flight to checking into a hotel. Most importantly, I saw firsthand how all the professionals conducted themselves. Conducting myself in a mature way and controlling my nerves are two things I learned at the Wells Fargo Championship and still use in my daily life on and off the golf course.”
2014: Alejandra Ayala
The first girl to play in the Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am when she teed it up with Rory McIlroy, Alejandra continues to close in on her dream of joining the LPGA Tour. She has earned back-to-back honors as the Georgia PGA Player of the Year.
She says the highlight of her Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am round came on the par-5 15th hole at Quail Hollow Club, where she drained a 15-foot birdie putt.
“Even today, it still feels like yesterday to me,” Alejandra, 16, says of the moment.
“I learned how to present myself when approached by the media or in front of a crowd, and it helped me shape my public speaking skills and stay focused on my game no matter who’s watching,” she says. “The experience I received from Wells Fargo reconfirmed my goal in life, which is to be on the LPGA one day.”
After graduation from Alpharetta High School, Alejandra has her sights set on education and golf at Pepperdine University. Then it’s on to the LPGA Tour and one day, she hopes, the opportunity to play in a “Women’s Masters” at Augusta National Golf Club. She recently shot a 69 to help her school’s golf team qualify for sectional competition, and she maintains a full schedule as a volunteer for The First Tee of Atlanta’s outreach and fundraising programs.
Along with her involvement in The First Tee, volunteering, and golf, Alejandra was selected in 2014 for the American Explorers leadership program, which has since taken her on a 22-day wilderness expedition in Montana and to Maine with Outward Bound later this year.
“I don’t have enough words to express my gratitude to Wells Fargo for the opportunity given to me and the other participants,” Alejandra says about her Succeeding Together contest experience. “Ultimately, I want to let my actions on and off the course describe the character of the people associated with The First Tee of Atlanta and Wells Fargo contest. This will be the real success of the Succeeding Together program.”
2015: Grace Vaughan
A member of The First Tee of Spartanburg & Cherokee Counties in South Carolina, Grace had only been playing golf four years when she hit the biggest shot of her life with McIlroy looking on at the Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am in 2015.
While she played well in the pro-am and became a fan favorite like her predecessors, Grace’s comeback story earned her national attention from ESPN and other quarters of the golfing world.
Diagnosed at age 3 with hereditary spherocytosis, a condition that affects the red blood cells, she eventually had her spleen and gallbladder removed as treatment for the severe anemia and other problems the disorder can cause.
She took up golf as a 12-year-old at the urging of her grandfather and fellow golfer Phil Elliott.
“The First Tee became my ticket to normalcy,” Grace says. “I learned life skills that helped me meet challenges, found coaches and volunteers who fostered my self-confidence, and fell in love with golf – finally a sport I could participate in! I learned that perseverance allows me to prevail against any odds, both on and off the golf course.”
Grace’s Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am round offered an unexpected bonus in addition to playing alongside McIlroy.
“When the other amateur golfer in our group learned I wanted to attend Converse College in Spartanburg, he introduced me to his wife, Betsy Fleming, who was then president of the college and who introduced me to the golf coach,” she says. “All the preparation from my Go-To Team had led me to that moment. Thanks to The First Tee and Wells Fargo, I will enroll at Converse College this fall as a Converse College Valkyrie golfer!
After her graduation from Converse, Grace plans to put a teaching degree to work for the Department of Defense.
“I grew up in Chesnee, South Carolina, and love my small-town roots, but I want to travel and teach at schools on military bases around the world,” she says. “Just as The First Tee has prepared me for life, I look forward to shaping the futures of the next generation.”
2016: Meghna Mazumdar
The youngest person to play in the Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am in 2016 at age 13 — and the youngest Succeeding Together essay contest winner to date — Meghna can’t get over that she played Quail Hollow Club with Rory McIlroy on his 27th birthday.
“As I walked up and shook hands with Rory, the first thing I said to him was ‘Happy Birthday!’ I had the privilege of playing a round of golf with him as the contest winner, and getting golf tips from not only a Wells Fargo Championship winner but a major championship winner the whole round.”
While Meghna, a member of The First Tee of Connecticut, remembers getting chills when the starter announced her name before she hit her first tee shot, one sound that still rings in her ears is the roar from the gallery behind the green of the 8th hole.
“My approach shot had landed just short of the green,” she recalled. “I pulled out my wedge and hit a soft shot, and the next thing I knew was a loud cheer from the grandstand. I ran up and noticed that my shot had landed just a few feet from the hole.”
Along with the golf tips and how to manage pressure amid the spotlight, Meghna said she learned media relations skills throughout the event — particularly from all the radio, television, and print interviews arranged by Wells Fargo and The First Tee®.
Those media relations skills were tested upon her return to Connecticut when Meghna got a call from NBC’s Today show to discuss not only her golf skills, but her personal invitation to attend the shareholders meeting of Berkshire Hathaway by chairman Warren Buffett after she wrote him a letter about her love for investing.
“The Wells Fargo Championship definitely prepared me to hold my own during my live appearance on Today,” said Meghna, “and other subsequent interviews and public speaking engagements I’ve had since, including speaking to members of the LPGA Leadership Academy in Glen Arbor, New York, where I became their youngest guest speaker.”
Meghna has continued to improve her golf game, including driving distance. Last July, she won a silver medal in her age group at the Connecticut State Nutmeg games, and she recently scored her first hole-in-one on the par-3 12th hole at Willowbrook Golf Club in South Windsor, Connecticut.
Graduating middle school this June, she plans to try out for the golf team when she enters high school this fall.
“I owe The First Tee and Wells Fargo a lot,” Meghna said, “and I am forever counting my blessings for my parents, my coaches, my teachers, and for all the opportunities that I have been blessed with in my short 14-year life!”