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Chasing the Dream, Welch Detours Back to Morey

  • Michael Welch, the 2010 Vermont Open champion, lines up a birdie putt on Lake Morey Country Club’s ninth hole during Monday’s first round. (Valley News - Greg Fennell)

    Michael Welch, the 2010 Vermont Open champion, lines up a birdie putt on Lake Morey Country Club’s ninth hole during Monday’s first round. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Massachusetts native Michael Welch pops a putt from the rough on Lake Morey Country Club’s ninth hole during first-round Vermont Open play on Monday. (Valley News - Greg Fennell)

    Massachusetts native Michael Welch pops a putt from the rough on Lake Morey Country Club’s ninth hole during first-round Vermont Open play on Monday. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Michael Welch, the 2010 Vermont Open champion, lines up a birdie putt on Lake Morey Country Club’s ninth hole during Monday’s first round. (Valley News - Greg Fennell)
  • Massachusetts native Michael Welch pops a putt from the rough on Lake Morey Country Club’s ninth hole during first-round Vermont Open play on Monday. (Valley News - Greg Fennell)
Michael Welch

Michael Welch

Fairlee — There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation why Michael Welch didn’t come back to Lake Morey Country Club after winning the Jeff Julian Memorial Vermont Open three years ago. He wanted to see how far his abilities could take him.

There’s also a perfectly reasonable explanation why Welch returned this week, seeking another victory.

“It would help my bank account,” the Massachusetts native joked after Monday’s opening round, “which I need right now.”

The Open’s six-decade history is littered with the occasional story of big-time success. Sean O’Hair used his 2004 win as a steppingstone to the PGA Tour. Lance Ten Broeck became better known as Jesper Parnevik’s longtime caddy, but his playing days included a win at Morey in 1980. Before he made a boatload of money on the Champions Tour, Dana Quigley took home Vermont Open winner’s checks in 1986 and ’87.

Welch has sniffed similar success, just not strong enough to satisfy. A bid to make the big tour last fall came up short, resulting in conditional status on the second-tier Web.com Tour this season. When he missed his first two cuts, he was shuffled down the pecking order to the point where he must win Monday qualifiers just to make a field.

It’s an expensive lifestyle. Lake Morey is a more palatable option, especially for someone with New England ties.

“The last few years I was playing, whether it was a mini-tour or whatever, at least it was something stable,” Welch said. “I was playing a lot of events. If I played well, I could make some money. Now this year, with status, I have to chase Mondays because I have a chance to get out there if I play good.

“I’ve probably went to six or seven (Web.com qualifiers), haven’t gotten into any. That’s a lot of money to travel across the country to play one round.”

Growing up in Quincy, Mass., south of Boston, Welch picked up the sticks at age 13 and found them dominating his athletic interests (which included hockey and soccer) by the time he was in high school.

That carried over into college. Welch played two years at Central Connecticut State, then transferred to Miami’s Johnson & Wales College. Graduating eight years ago, he’s been a professional golfer ever since.

“I like it,” Welch said. “I meet a lot of new people. I get to see guys this week I haven’t seen in a while. I don’t mind traveling. I’m single, so it doesn’t bother me.”

And it’s not as if Welch — a two-time New England Amateur champion — hasn’t enjoyed success since turning pro. He prefaced his Vermont Open victory with a Cape Cod Open win, one of three he now owns. He took last year’s Massachusetts Open. His resume includes a New Hampshire Open title in 2008.

Welch was already a regular on the NGA Hooters Pro Tour by the time of his Vermont victory. In six seasons on the South-centric circuit, through last year, he owned three tournament victories and nearly $300,000 in prize money. With the PGA Tour closing qualifying school last fall as a means to make the show, Welch reached final stage only to fall well short of reaching his goal.

“I feel like I can make it out on the tour; it’s just a hard process to get there,” Welch said. “That’s my goal, to get out there. I feel I belong there. It’s just hard to break on through.”

He calls his memory selective as a matter of course, returning to the Northeast at least offers a dose of the familiar. Welch’s parents still live near Boston, which gave him a base to compete both at Morey this week and in the Mass Open earlier this month.

“I’m smarter, maybe a little more mature,” Welch said, laughing. “I come up here for a month or two in the summer, bang around some state opens and qualifiers and stuff. … I’m just bouncing around, trying to make some money, y’know? Wherever they’ll let me play.”

Welch shot three rounds of 67 to win the 2010 Open by a stroke. Monday’s 66 put him in good stead to compete again on a day in which 64 held the lead.

Now 31 and a Florida resident, Welch doesn’t mind the travel involved in chasing his dream. He’ll probably make the long traverse to Indiana next week and try another Web.com qualifier in hopes of progressing up the tour’s ladder.

But he thinks about what’s next “every day.”

“Chasing those Mondays can get expensive,” Welch said. “I’m kinda getting low on funds, so I figured I’d play Mass Open and Vermont, hopefully make a little money. I didn’t play good in Mass, but hopefully I can maybe win this or be right around there at the end with a chance.”

Sounds perfectly reasonable.

Chip Shots: Today’s final round begins with a logjam at the top and the possibility remaining of crowning the Open’s third amateur champion. First-round leader Timothy Ailes, former Coastal Carolina golfer Zack Byrd and Massachusetts’ Michael Gallo share the 36-hole lead at 8-under par 132, with Gallo’s 6-under 64 yesterday tying Ailes’ tournament low from Monday. Former Mount Anthony standout Dustin Cone and 2010 champion Michael Welch are two shots back. … Fall Mountain graduate Ryan Kohler holds the low amateur position at 5-under 135, very much in the hunt for the championship. In all, 13 golfers are within five strokes of the lead. … Lake Morey’s Benny Hayes, the recent Hanover High grad, shot 72 yesterday and is at 2-under 138 through two rounds. Kearsarge grad D.J. Lantz (71-69-140) made the pro cut of 144, as did Eastman amateur Evan Russell (71-72-143) and Lake Morey assistant pro Patrick Pelletier (71-73-144). … Hanover Country Club’s Nate Choukas, Zachary Pollard and Zachary Temple and Lake Sunapee’s Chris Durocher were among the 14 golfers to made the amateur cut of 155. … Temple and Pollard will join Essex Junction’s Jake Orr in today’s first group at 7 a.m. … Co-leaders Ailes, Byrd and Carbone have an 11:30 a.m. final-round tee time.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.