Mass. Golfer Wins 2nd Vermont Open Title: Welch Prevails in Three-Way Playoff
Michael Welch drives his ball off the 14th tee yesterday at Lake Morey Country Club. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Purchase photo reprints »
Michael Carbone, of Brewster, Mass., sends a shower of sand toward the 13th green during third-round play at the Jeff Julian Memorial Vermont Open at Lake Morey Country Club yesterday. Carbone earned a spot in a three-way playoff after the 54-hole tournament, which was won by Michael Welch. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Purchase photo reprints »
Fairlee — Someone could make a movie of this week’s Jeff Julian Memorial Vermont Open golf championship, and Michael Welch would know just what to title it: It Came Out of Nowhere.
Genre: Horror. As far as Welch is concerned, though, he’d give it two thumbs up.
Just when it appeared he’d be settling for second-place money, Welch witnessed the monster that devours some golfers whole. Ohio’s Timothy Ailes, needing only a par on 18 for the championship, instead three-putted from 12 feet to set up a sudden-death playoff with Welch and Massachusetts pro Michael Carbone.
A three-day score of 9-under-par 201 made Welch a Vermont Open champ three years ago. This time, his 66-68-67 scorecard got him to the playoff, from which he won his second crown with a par on Morey’s intimidating first hole.
“Anytime you can tee it up and beat everybody, it’s a pretty satisfying feeling,” said the Quincy, Mass., native, who earned $7,500 for the victory. “I grew up playing two golf courses, Furnace Brook and Presidents, and they’re both a lot like this course. It’s just one of those courses where it can jump and bite you if you’re not careful.”
Ailes found that out the hard way.
On a day in which no one seemed to want the title, the one-time Ohio Wesleyan golfer held a one-shot lead on Welch, Carbone and a hard-charging Kyle Gallo over the final three holes. Welch dropped out of a tie with Ailes at 10 under with a 15th-hole bogey, and neither Carbone nor Gallo could summon a late birdie that might have secured a win.
Ailes — who grabbed the first-round lead with a 6-under-par 64 Monday — needed only to par the relatively workaday 18th, a 321-yard straight shot with sand protecting front and left and a two-tiered green.
The 40-year-old followed his weeklong game plan, splitting the fairway with his drive and landing his approach in the middle of the green, 12 feet below the flag. Be it adrenaline or aggression, Ailes raced his uphill birdie putt 6 feet past the pin, missed the comebacker and tapped in for bogey … and a playoff.
Oh, the horror.
“Tim was playing so solid; he was hitting good putts, but unfortunately it happens sometimes,” said Carbone, who shot rounds of 68-64-69. “He was making sure to get it up the hill, and once it got by the hole it took off.”
Said Welch: “I feel for Tim. He had the tournament there. I’m sure if you put him out there 100 times, he’s gonna two-putt that every time.”
A course Welch termed “6,000 yards of sheer terror” on Monday starts with a 232-yard par-3 scream waiting to happen. Some golfers struggle with club choice; others see pines down the left, evergreens on the right and a front-left sand trap and seek a spot to safely bail.
All three missed the green. Ailes, still bothered by 18, yanked his drive behind the left-side trees. Aiming right of the flag, Welch mis-hit a 4-iron but stayed below the pin, in front of the green. Carbone pushed his tee ball to the greenside apron right.
Welch put the heat on both by chipping to within 4 feet. Ailes slapped his ball to the fringe, but couldn’t convert the up-and-down for par. Carbone made a bid for a chip-in birdie, but a three-putt finish opened the door for Welch’ winning tap-in par.
“I’ve three-putted at the wrong time sometimes, but never to lose a tournament,” Welch said. “I feel for (Ailes). As happy as I am to win, I kind of feel bad.”
Ailes, a Columbus, Ohio, native playing the Vermont Open for the first time, declined to comment after the tournament.
The day began with Ailes, Carbone and South Carolina’s Zach Byrd leading at 8 under. Byrd reached 10 under first, but a double-bogey 6 on the fifth hole — caused when his drive shot off a cart path into unplayable territory — followed by a bogey on No. 6 ended his bid.
Two back at the start, Welch shot out of the gate with a birdie-birdie-birdie-par-birdie launch, but he couldn’t sustain the momentum. Ailes and Carbone reached 10 under with matching birdies on 7, although the Ohioan would give the shot back one hole later.
Ailes moved to 11 under by driving the green of the par-4 10th and sticking a 40-foot eagle putt, with Carbone joining thanks to a short birdie. That’s as good as it got for both, who were back to 10 under within two holes, and Welch, who briefly reached double digits on the back nine.
“Maybe a little more wind, but obviously 100 percent of it is in pin placements,” Carbone said of the lack of a scary-low final round. “And there’s just the overall try-to-get-it-in in the third round. It’s a little bit different for everybody.
“I think you’re trying not to make a big mistake. You can make double in two seconds if you short-side yourself.”
Gallo, a Connecticut pro, made a late charge with birdies on 13, 14 and 16. A par on 18 would have put him in the playoff. He, like Ailes, didn’t convert, finishing at 8-under 202 (69-67-66). Florida’s Jhared Hack and former Mount Anthony High standout Dustin Cone tied for fifth at 203.
As much as he’ll appreciate going to the bank this morning, Welch liked the boost of confidence winning his second Vermont Open gives him. He hadn’t won a tournament in 30 starts, dating back to last year’s Massachusetts Open.
Holder of limited playing status on the second-tier Web.com Tour, Welch said he’ll now probably fly to Indiana this weekend in an attempt to qualify for next week’s tour stop.
“I would think I would fly, because it’s too far to drive,” he said. “It’s not that much more expensive if I can get direct from Boston to Indianapolis. I’ve never flown between those two cities. I don’t know how cheap it’ll be.”
It’s a decision that came out of nowhere. Can’t wait to see the in-flight movie.
Chip Shots: Despite shooting a final-round 76, Fall Mountain High graduate Ryan Kohler held on to take low amateur honors at 1-over 211, his first such result at Morey. Former Burr & Burton star Casey Komline was three shots back. Lake Morey’s Benny Hayes, owner of a 4-under 66 on Monday, struggled to a 79 yesterday to finish at 7-over 217. … Lake Morey assistant pro Patrick Pelletier shot 71-73-68-212 to tie for 31st place, the best performance by an Upper Valley resident. Kearsarge grad D.J. Lantz shared 35th at 213 (71-69-73). … Playing with his Kimball Union Academy bag, Grantham’s Evan Russell took third among amateurs at 5-over 215. … Carbone and Welch have been good friends since their junior golf days in Massachusetts. Welch now calls Orlando, Fla., home.
Greg Fennell can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3226.