Jul 20, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Kim Welch began Sunday’s final round of the Duramed Futures Tour’s Alliance Bank Golf Classic at the Links at Erie Village wondering if her newfound television fame would translate into wins on the course.
More than 10 long hours later, Welch got her answer, prevailing when Jin Young Pak, her rival throughout a long and trying battle, missed a short par putt on the fourth playoff hole.
The numbers will say that Welch shot 70, one under par, while Pak put up a 71 as the pair tied after 54 holes at 204, nine under par, and that Welch won $12,600 for finishing on top. But numbers alone do not even close to telling this story.
What started on a soggy morning did not end until Welch and Pak had gone through 22 holes of high-wire tension, enduring two prolonged weather delays and countless momentum shifts before finishing close to sunset.
Futures officials must be credited with good hindsight, sending all the players that made the cut of five-over-par 147 off before 9:30 a.m. off both the 1st and 10th tees. They thought they could finish before bad weather arrived. That would not prove to be the case.
As the day started in gloomy drizzle, Pak held the lead at nine under par, one ahead of Welch, whose 64 on Saturday was the low round of the tournament. They sat two shots ahead of the field, with Christi Cano in third place at six under.
Welch may have been the best-known player in the field, due to her victory in the Golf Channel’s “Big Break Ka’anapali” program, whose episodes ended earlier in the month. Though winning that event entitled her to Futures Tour exemptions through 2009, Welch, 11th on the money list going into the tournament, was hungry to get to the top five on the money list and graduate to the LPGA Tour.
Pak, playing on her 23rd birthday, had just as much motivation without the previous TV spotlight, sitting at eighth on the Futures money list. A win here, and she would move to fourth place, close to her goal.
Immediately on Sunday, the pendulum shifts began. Welch made a long birdie putt at the 1st hole and took the temporary lead as Pak bogeyed, only to have Welch drive into a hazard on the 2nd hole and bogey.
Aside from one moment on the 2nd hole when Cano moved within one shot, no one else would challenge the top two. Both Pak and Welch birdied the 5th hole to move to nine under, but Welch bogeyed the 6th and stood one back as they played the par-5 7th.
Just as Welch, the Futures Tour’s longest hitter, was to play her second shot, the horn blew for lightning in the area. A heavy downpour followed, and the delay took up nearly two hours before play resumed just after 1 p.m.
Right away, Welch pounced, drilling her 3-wood to six feet. The easy birdie produced another tie at nine under as Pak was working on a string of nine consecutive pars.
They stayed even until the 11th, when Welch drained another long birdie putt to move back to the lead. Just like that, though, it vanished on the 12th when Welch missed a par putt inside two feet.
Just at that moment, a wind and some rain came up from the south, pushing Welch’s tee shot on the par-three 13th into a bunker and leading to a bogey. Now Pak led by one.
It turned yet again after Welch made a crucial par putt at 14, then a long birdie putt at 15 as Pak three-putted. Back in a one-shot lead, Welch went to the 300-yard 16th hole and, in the gathering gloom, drove the green, just as she had the day before on her way to a crucial eagle.
But before Pak could tee off, the horn went off for a second time, sending everyone to the clubhouse again. A half-hour later, a torrential thunderstorm tore through Erie Village, leaving some fairways in puddles.
After waiting two and a half hours for things to settle down, it was determined that the course was playable enough to finish, and the 18 remaining golfers returned to action.
Perhaps rattled by the long delay, Pak pulled her drive at 16 right and took two chips to reach the green. Welch two-putted, made birdie, and appeared ready to put it away before Pak saved par with a clutch putt, keeping her within two shots.
That would prove quite crucial, for a hooked lay-up on the par-5 17th led to a Welch bogey as Pak parred to pull back within one. And on the par-4 18th, Pak drilled a brilliant iron to five feet and, after Welch parred, sank the birdie putt that forced a tie and a sudden-death playoff.
Returning to the 18th tee until somebody won, Pak and Welch both made par on the first extra hole, then the second. On the third go-round, Pak’s chance to win it just slid by the hole, and the pair would play a 22nd hole on this long, tiring day.
As the setting sun broke through, Welch hit her approach shot on the fourth playoff hole to just six feet. Pak’s long birdie putt went three feet past, and Welch now had her chance to win after seeing three previous Pak attempts to win in the playoff go off line.
Welch missed, and now Pak merely had to make her three-footer to keep the marathon going. But the putt lipped out, and Welch hugged her caddie as, at long last, she had won.
The $12,600 first prize lifts Welch to $31,299 and fifth place on the Futures money list. If she stays in that position, she will get her full-time LPGA playing privileges in 2009.
No one really challenged Welch or Pak on this long day. Lisa Meldrum, the first-round leader, made a late charge, shot 68 and finished third at 206, seven under par, while playing partner Mo Martin had her own 68 for 207, six under, and fourth place alone. Whitney Myers, Song Yi Choi and Lisa Ferrero shared fifth place at 208.
In a rough final round, Ithaca native Lori Atsedes shot a 78 to finish at 219. Mexican Tanya Dergal had the low round on Sunday, a 65 through all the starts and stops.
As Welch and her caddie walked off the 18th green, the sun and a light drizzle created a full rainbow on the eastern horizon, a sight almost as pretty as the victory that might push Welch past part-time TV stardom to a much higher level in the golfing world.