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Welch takes shot at pro golf career

Photo courtesy Arkansas State Golfer Jennifer Welch takes a swing during her playing days at Arkansas State.
Photo courtesy Arkansas State Golfer Jennifer Welch takes a swing during her playing days at Arkansas State.

Jennifer Welch has decided she can’t give up the game she loves.

So Welch, the Central Arkansas Christian alumna who completed her Arkansas State University golf career last spring as an All-Sun Belt Conference selection, turned professional after graduating in December with a bachelor’s degree in radiologic sciences with an emphasis in diagnostic medical sonography.

“I came home and made the decision,” she said from Dallas on Monday. “I’m pretty competitive, and I didn’t want to give it up. I don’t want to get down the road, look back and regret not trying.”

And she appears to be on the right track.

After finishing out of the money in her first two tournaments on the Cactus Tour, based mainly in the Phoenix-Las Vegas area, she cashed her first check over the weekend when she finished second after a two-hole playoff at Shady Valley Country Club in Arlington, Texas. Welch fired 71-74-75—220 to collect the runner-up prize of $900.

After her first two Cactus events, she came home in mid-April and added another coach. Her swing coach is Ann Baker at the Country Club of Arkansas; she added Justin Hill from the Justin Hill Golf Academy at Greystone Golf Club “who does everything — short game, middle, other stuff,” she said.

“It’s made a huge difference,” she said. “I’ve never really had a short game coach, and I know it’s a big weakness of mine. And he brings a ton of different ways of looking at the middle game. He’s transformed my short game.”

Indeed.

In her first Cactus event at Seville in April, she tied for 20th with 72-75-80—228, just out of the money. At her second at Wigwam Gold, she tied for 32nd with 83-81—164.

“After those two I came home and took a month off and focused with (Hill) and worked on different things in practice every day,” she said.

Hill called Welch “definitely a true talent.”

“We’re looking at every part of her golf game and making her more efficient,” he said. “She puts in the time. She’s one of the most dedicated touring pros I’ve worked with, and I’ve worked with golfers from the PGA, LPGA, Nationwide and Champions tours for 10 years.

“With her dedication, the sky’s the limit. We’re definitely making some heads turn.”

Welch’s competitive return was at Arlington, and this week she’s playing in the Texas Women’s Open at Old American Golf Club in The Colony. She played that event as an amateur last summer.

“I’ve seen huge progress from the first two events to a couple of days ago,” she said. “I’ve had a huge transformation in my short game. I can score even if I’m not hitting the greens.”

Welch won three state championships for CAC and was named the Arkansas State Golf Association Junior Girls Player of the Year in 2006 and 2007 and the Arkansas Women’s Golf Association Junior Player of the Year in 2007. She was a charter member and volunteer at The First Tee of Central Arkansas and was named The First Tee Player of the Year in 2003, ‘04 and ‘05.

Next week she’ll fly to Las Vegas for two Cactus Tour events, and then she and her parents, Dennis and Brenda Welch of Little Rock, will evaluate her schedule.

“I thought when I started I would just play it by the year and see how it goes, maybe Q School will happen, and see if I want to keep doing it,” she said. “But now, I’m going to be doing this for a few years for sure. My parents are 100 percent supportive, which is a blessing. For right now, they’re covering a lot of the expenses.”

She said she figured she would have to prove herself to get some major sponsors, perhaps through Q School in the fall, but so far, so good.

Hill is planning some fundraisers to go toward her Q School expenses. For more information, contact him at jayhillgolf@me.com or (214) 542-7613.

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