Feature article - Rise and Fall of Michael Welch
Feature article from guest writer Martin Williams.
In 1990, 16 year old Michael Welch was the envy of every young golfer around the world. Having dispatched house-hold names time and time again, including recent world number one Lee Westwood, in each and every national title that year, Welch failed to reach the heights that were expected of him.
The golfing sensation that tore-up the junior section was never to replicate his domination on the professional stage.
An 18th place finish at the British Open in 1996 where Welch played alongside Greg Norman, a true great of the game, was one of the more notable achievements of his career, as he carded better rounds than Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington to name just a few.
But for a young man tipped to be a prominent fixture in golf, this was the best that it ever got. His stay in the limelight was hugely premature.
Welch’s career took off in 1988 when he played and won the Junior Daily Telegraph tournament in Portugal. A hole-in-one on the penultimate hole led to Welch taking home the title and in turn he received the accolade of the Telegraph’s Junior Golfer of the Year. This was followed by numerous feature articles across all of the national newspapers and golfing magazines.
Playing out of Hawkstone Golf Club in Shropshire, Welch was always compared to greats of the game that also took their first steps in golf in the same county; Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam. But as a junior he surpassed everything they ever achieved.
Speaking about that time of his life, Welch said: “I never really appreciated what I had or what I was achieving until many years later. At the time it just felt normal. I was just a kid doing ok.”
His exploits as a teenager are incomparable. He blew away everyone he came up against. In 1990 alone, apart from one tournament he lost in April of that year, he held every national title in junior golf, which totaled 12 tournament successes, more than anyone has achieved in the history of the game. This included winning the British Boys, European Boys and the World Boys Championships, all within months of each other, a feat that hasn’t been replicated.
But it wasn’t until four years later, at the age of 21, that the Shropshire hot-shot hit the professional stage, and for two years he battled with some of the best to ever play the game.
“I was ready for it to be honest; I was getting stale playing amateur golf. In hindsight I should’ve turned pro at least 2 years earlier. The best thing about it was seeing the world and playing the best courses against the best players in the world. As a kid growing up that’s all I ever wanted to do.”
But what happened to one of the most promising young talents the sport has ever produced to take him off the golfing map? The pressures at the top, like in any sport, are now greater than ever and many have said this was the case for Michael Welch but he believes it was a change in his technique that ultimately changed his promising future.
“I altered my technique when I was 22, just after I turned pro. I still continued to do well but I was never the same strong player that I was before. The technical change was done to prevent injury further down the line and it was the biggest mistake I ever made.”
And then the ultimate blow came for Welch in 1996. Having been a pro for just two years, a great deal shorter than anyone had expected, his tour card was taken from him.
“It felt horrible losing my card, it was simply inexperience. I missed the first 9 cuts by a shot which was crazy, showing just how close I was. I was focusing on the cut mark instead of trying to get more under par and letting the score take care of itself. It was my fault really; I should’ve done better than I did.”
Following the disappointment of losing his tour card, Welch continued to play seriously, coming close time and time again to getting his card back, but he was never to achieve the heights that everyone thought he could reach in a career that back-fired quicker than it sped up.
But his disappointment has turned into enjoyment in recent years. The sport that had given him little to shout about since 1990 has now carved a career path alongside the one he had hoped for.
“At the back end of 2005 I realised that playing full time was slipping away and that I would have to find another avenue to go down.
“I never wanted to give up on the sport that had done me so well throughout the early parts of my life.
“So I began coaching seriously later on in 2005. I had been coaching throughout the winters since I turned pro, but I decided to give it my full attention and really have a go at it. I had lower back problems and was struggling to stay match fit so I decided to start coaching full time at Hawkstone Park; my home club in Shropshire.
“I soon began getting involved with the county coaching and it slowly started to gather momentum.
“And then last year I had a phone call out of the blue asking if I was interested in an interview for the Lee Westwood Golf School. I was successful and that’s where I am today.”
Now the head-coach at Lee Westwood’s golfing school, Welch is passing on his wealth of knowledge to the protégés of the future about how tough but how rewarding the beautiful game can be.
“I love the job I'm doing now; working with young lads seeing them develop is very exiting to be a part of.”
Although Welch now describes Westwood as “a different animal” to the one that he beat so convincingly back in 1990, the memories are still at the fore of his mind; with the hope of coaching someone to the heights of the game that Welch was tipped for; and the heights that Westwood has achieved.
What do you think? leave your comments below (Comments)