Patrick Welch makes history at Rhode Island Amateur
Patrick Welch
Patrick Welch

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Patrick Welch made history Tuesday in the 109th RIGA Amateur Championship, yet he was only part of the story on a wild day at Metacomet Country Club.

The 15-year-old, the youngest player in the 122- man field, earned medalist honors when he compiled a 2-under 68 in a rain delayed round for a 36-hole total of 5-under 135 .

Welch used his crosshanded grip to compile birdies against only one bogey in the 36 holes of qualifying. He became the youngest player in tournament history two years ago when he earned a berth in the tournament and has been the youngest competitor for each of the last three years. He qualified for match play in each of his first two starts and was beaten in the round of 16 each time, two years ago by Jamison Randall and last year by eventual champion Bobby Leopold.

As far as could be determined through a check of RIGA records, only one player in the modern era (post World War II) has won the tournament while still in high school. That was North Kingstown’s Scott Teller in 1973. Welch just finished his freshman year at Classical.

As young as he is, Welch had goals. While some players are concerned only about qualifying for match play, he very much wanted to win medalist honors.

"I was playing for medalist. I wanted to be medalist,’’ he said. "I wanted to show all the great players here what I can do. I’m proud I was able to do it.’’ He had only one bogey in the 36 holes.

His threesome was the highlight group and all three came through. Each year, the RIGA has its Amateur, Junior and Senior champions play in the same threesome in the two rounds of qualifying. That meant Welch did his work playing with Leopold, the Amateur champion, and Dr. George Pirie, the Senior titlist. The group still had three holes to play when the afternoon rain delay was called.

Leopold had the tournament’s low round, a 6- under 64 to finish a 3-under 137, second only to Welch. He closed out in style with a bird on his final hole in the gathering darkness.

Pirie faced a challenge after an opening 76. The Hall of Famer from Valley responded with a 69 that included an eagle on the par-5 ninth. He three-putted the 16th, his first hole after the rain delay.

"I wasn’t sure of the speed after the rain,’’ he said. "I knocked it 15 feet past the hole.’’ That put him at 6-over, which he figured was near the cut line. Showing the grit he has displayed so often over the years, he responded by hitting his approach on 17 within 10 feet and making the bird to clinch a spot in match play.

As well as those three played, for most of the day the story for the other competitors was the weather. Play had to be delayed twice by heavy rainstorms. The morning starters had to sit for about 45 minutes when heavy rain swept up the bay. As bad as that storm was, though, it was tiny in comparison to the monsoon that arrived about 5:35 p.m. when Welch still had three holes to play.

Bob Ward, the executive director, blew the horn to stop play about 5:25 p.m. Because the rain had not arrived, some wondered what he was doing. However, about five minutes later, as all the 40 or so players still on the course were back in the safety of the clubhouse and patio at Metacomet, a vicious rain storm began pelting the course.

Within minutes, standing water was visible at a number of spots on the course. Ward twice updated the players on what officials were planning. When the rain abated about 6:30, Matt Klida, the course superintendent, and Jim McKenna, the RIGA tournament director, went out to inspect the course. They decided that Klida and his staff needed a half hour to deal with standing water and squeegee several greens that still had standing water.

Ward met with the players again, told them carts, which were allowed this year for the first time, could not return to the course. If players had questions about how to deal with issues caused by the rain, they were to play two balls and get a ruling on which one was the correct one after they completed play.

Those who finished just before dark included Paul Quigley. The oldest player in the field, at age 70, he became what is thought to be the oldest player to earn a spot in match play with a 75 for 145 total.

Second-round play was about 8:20 p.m. In a rarity, no playoff was necessary since exactly 32 players finished at 146 or lower.

Even with all the craziness of the day, most of the top players handled matters well and earned berths in match play.

Four-time champion Brad Valois and eight-time player of the year Charlie Blanchard both recovered from poor days on Monday to easily qualify. Both followed their 75s in the first round with 68 for 143. They played in the morning. So did Burke Memorial champion Brendan Lemp, who had a 67 for 142, and Bryant University’s McKinley Slade, who last week qualified for the U.S. Amateur also had a 67 for 140.

ABOUT THE Rhode Island Amateur

Rhode Island-sanctioned event running for over 100 years. 36-holes of stroke play qualifying to determine a match play bracket of 32 players.

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