TERRE HAUTE —
Eastern Kentucky girls golf coach Mike Whitson, an alumnus of his employer, enjoyed his stay in Terre Haute as coach of Indiana State, where he started the women’s golf program.
Whitson and his family made many friends at ISU and in the golfing community.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Whitson plucked one of the community’s top talents to help him at EKU.
A three-time state finalist at Terre Haute North High School, Rachel Welker has made her presence felt already at EKU, placing as the team’s No. 2 player in the final round of a one-stroke victory in the Ohio Valley Conference championships April 23.
Welker’s performance was huge in the Colonels’ ability to earn the automatic bid for the NCAA tournament. EKU will be one of 24 teams competing in the East Regional at Auburn University Club on Thursday. The top eight teams and two individuals will advance from each of three regionals to the national championship at the University of Georgia.
Welker shot 5-over-par 77 in her final round of the Ohio Valley Conference championships at GrayStone Golf Club at Dickson, Tenn., sinking putts for two birdies.
“I think winning the conference tournament was more than I expected,” Welker said of her freshman season. “That sets the bar pretty high for the next three years. It was truly the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. All five of us get along so well. It was just a really great experience for all of us.”
Welker said the Colonels went into the OVCs with an excellent mindset, thanks to Whitson. Plus, they were picked to finish sixth by the OVC coaches, so it was a no-pressure situation.
Welker said that showed all three days with quality work on the greens.
“I putted well throughout the whole tournament,” Welker said. “Our coach, he really had us in the mindset. We had no options but to win. Even if I hit a shot that wasn’t good, I had to keep plugging along.”
EKU, with three freshman and two seniors on the roster, jumped into a five-stroke lead after the second day and held on for the title.
“We had a seven-shot lead with three to go,” Whitson said. “We put the ball in a couple bad spots on the last few holes. [Runner-up Jacksonville’s players] were really making some pars. We were playing some conservative golf and sometimes that’s the worst thing you can do.”
Welker definitely carries some momentum into the action at Auburn.
“She struggled the days up until the tournament. Struggled a little bit the first day. There were a few fundamentals she could change on the range. Then the second day, she played beautifully. The last round, she played a wonderful round,” Whitson said.
With her well-rounded game, Whitson loves Welker’s potential.
“Her future is very bright,” Whitson said. “She had some nagging injuries. Those are out of the way now. She’s good to go now. We knew what Rachel’s talent level was, but we also knew what her work ethic was.
“She’s worked hard and worked on a lot of different areas. We’ve worked diligently on some swing mechanics these last few months.”
Welker has her sights set high this weekend and over the next three years.
“All conference team... that’s a goal. Really just to keep improving my game. Definitely think we’re going to come back and win the conference tourney as a team next year. Winning it individually is a goal,” Welker said. “Coach Whitson has become my primary swing instructor. He’s really transformed my game in a good way.”