JACKSONVILLE, Fla.- She is already the most accomplished player in the history of the women's golf program at Jacksonville University. Despite graduating two years ago, Jessica Welch's groundbreaking impact carries on.
Welch will be the first former Dolphin to tee it up in the Women's US Open this Thursday at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. Those that know her are far from surprised.
"She set the bar high for the future of JU Women's Golf and brought a lot of notoriety to the program," said Head Coach Jennifer Borocz, who coached Welch from 2012-14.
Welch won a JU career best three tournaments, and holds 13 individual records, including lowest scoring average in a season and career and birdies in a season and career. In her senior season, Welch was named ASUN Golfer of the Year, en route to a regional berth in the NCAA Championship, both firsts for a JU women's golfer.
"College golf is a learning experience because not only are you playing against a more elite group of golfers, but throughout the season you have to learn to balance traveling throughout the semester along with keeping up in classes," said Welch. "That has helped me to know the best way to balance traveling and competing while still getting the right amount of rest to be where I need to be every week,".
The next part of her journey to the US Open started after she graduated. Welch initially stayed on the JU staff to work towards a master's degree while serving as the team's graduate assistant. But, the call of the game was too great, and Welch wanted to try her hand professionally.
"She was able to pass along her knowledge to our current student-athletes while she was an assistant coach," said Borocz. "Now we wish her the best and support her on her journey to succeed at the professional level."
After a year as a GA at JU, Welch worked towards earning her place in the professional ranks. She is currently competing on the Symetra Tour, known as the "road to the LPGA", and is trying to earn her LPGA card at the end of the year. As many as ten golfers on the Symetra Tour have earned exemptions for the following season in any one year, so the competition is high.
"Playing as a professional has been a lot of fun and a real learning experience. They say the first year on the Symetra Tour is the learning year and it's certainly true because not only do you learn how to play at a higher level, but you also learn the best way to travel, how to network with the people you meet, and how to balance practice rounds so you're running at 100% when it's time to tee it up," said Welch.
After getting her feet wet this past spring, Welch has come on strong as of late, finishing in the top five in two of the last three events she played in. Most recently, she shot -15 to finish a career best T-2 at the Tullymore Classic in Canadian Lakes, Mich. at the beginning of July.
Still, the opportunity to play in the LPGA's biggest major would not have come if not for an outstanding performance in the one day, 36-hole qualifier at Sugar Mill Golf Club in New Symrna Beach, Fla. After a respectable 73 on the first 18, Welch came out firing, shooting a 64 on the next 18 to win the qualifier at -8, two strokes better than anyone else.
Now, Welch faces her biggest challenge to date in her young professional career. She will not have to wait long either, as she will tee off with the first group Thursday morning at 6:45 a.m. Despite the early start, Welch is ready to do what got her here.
"I'm sure my nerves will be going, but my plan is to stay in my zone, stay calm and patient, and go one shot at a time," said Welch.