'I could really feel his presence': Oklahoma's Patrick Welch wins one for Dad at East Lake

Brentley Romine

ATLANTA – After chunking his chip shot and making bogey on East Lake’s closing hole, Oklahoma senior Quade Cummins could’ve been disappointed. He had just fallen two shots shy of sharing the individual title with teammate Patrick Welch on Monday at the East Lake Cup. But when he walked out of scoring, Cummins headed straight to Welch, who had just won his first college event, and put his arm around the junior.

As the two walked toward the middle of the green, away from the small crowd of players, tournament personnel and media types, Cummins said a few words to Welch, who was fighting back tears.

“I told him that his dad would’ve been so happy for him,” Cummins said. “He would’ve been standing right there watching him on the 18th green, and he would’ve been so proud of him.”

Welch’s father, Martin Welch, died Aug. 12 of cardiac arrest. The 56-year-old left behind his wife, Grace, and four children, Emma, Jack, Lucie and his oldest, Patrick, to whom he taught the game and helped groom into an elite junior, college All-American and, now, college winner.

“This is good stuff,” Sooners head coach Ryan Hybl said. “Knowing what’s been going on the last few months, it just makes me proud – proud for him, excited for him … proud for his family.

"I know his mom, she’s probably back home crying right now.”

Martin put a golf club – specifically a cutdown bullseye putter – in his son’s hands when Patrick was 3 years old. It wasn’t long after that Patrick was hitting full shots with every club, though he did so with a 10-finger, cross-handed grip, which he still uses to this day.

Instead of trying to change Patrick’s unorthodox grip – or having others attempt to – Martin embraced his son’s uniqueness. His dad’s support gave Patrick the confidence he needed to succeed. "He was literally my best friend," Patrick said.

Welch
Welch

Not only did Patrick win a Drive, Chip and Putt national title in 2014, but two years later he qualified for the U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team – and went a perfect 5-0, silencing any doubters and drawing the attention of many top-level college coaches, including Hybl, who instantly recognized Welch’s athleticism – the Providence, Rhode Island, product also was a talented baseball and basketball player.

“He’s probably the most athletic guy that we’ve ever had at Oklahoma,” Hybl said.

In two years and change in Norman, Oklahoma, Welch has become a fixture in the Sooners’ lineup, posting three top-10s and earning All-American honors as a freshman. This past summer, he was playing some of his best golf, finishing in the top 10 at the Southern Amateur and making it to the Round of 64 at the U.S. Amateur before suffering a first-round exit at Bandon Dunes.

That evening, though, Welch’s world was turned upside down. When he and his mom arrived home from Oregon, they found out the devastating news that Martin had died unexpectedly. For nearly a week, Patrick stayed home, struggling to grasp what had just happened. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t eat. He could barely stand being in his family’s house.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Patrick said. “I was just kind of lost.”

He even debated not returning to school – that is until Grace, knowing it would be the best thing for him, talked her son into heading back to rejoin his team. Turns out, moms always do know best.

“When I got back to school, I could tell my teammates didn’t want to talk about it. They knew what was going on, but they were always cracking jokes with me and making me feel normal, which I needed,” Welch said. “It’s still tough … probably the toughest time I’ll ever have to go through, but it means a lot to have their support.”

Added Hybl: “It didn’t alleviate the pain that he was struggling with, but it did probably make time go by a lot faster for him, and time heals all, right? He’s in so much better a place now than he was three months ago.”

So much so that two days before the team left for East Lake, Oklahoma’s third and final event of the fall, Hybl had a feeling it was going to be Welch’s week. East Lake, Hybl said, fits Welch’s game perfectly by demanding a high ball flight, accuracy off the tee and a hot putter.

On Monday, Welch validated Hybl’s prediction, racking up a field-best eight birdies, including one on the par-5 finishing hole, to shoot 5-under 67 and help Oklahoma nab the No. 1 seed for match play, which begins Tuesday.

Patrick Welch on winning East Lake Cup men's individual

“I’ve been in this situation coming down the stretch and I’ve been close before, and those other times I’ve thrown it away,” Welch said. “But today, I played really well, and it all came together at the right time.”

The only thing missing was Dad. Martin lived to see his son play golf tournaments, and when he couldn't attend events, he and Patrick would talk for hours on the phone, going over nearly every shot, good and bad.

While Patrick wished his dad could’ve been there to share in the special moment – Martin Welch’s memorial service will be held Nov. 6 in San Francisco, where Patrick was born – Patrick knew, in a way, he was.

“I could really feel his presence out there today, pretty much every shot,” Welch said. “I know he was looking down on me."