By Jason Krump
When Kim Welch competed during a Hall of Fame career at Washington State from 2001 to 2005, she honed her skills on a 9-hole course and a driving range that featured a hill as a target, one that residents sled down during the winter months.
And while the residents were sledding, Welch and her teammates were trekking south to practice in the milder climate of the Lewiston and Clarkston region.
So you can imagine Welch's thoughts when she visited the women's golf team at the Palouse Ridge Golf Club practice facility last September.
"Going to the golf course and just realizing what we had," she said, reflecting of how the facilities have changed in less than a decade. "I was pointing out to them, up the hill that was our driving range, that little shed was our pro shop.
"The opportunities that they have now with the facilities are amazing."
Amazing is an apt term to describe Welch's career as a Cougar.
In four years, she compiled 11 career wins, 31 top-10 finishes and 40 top-25 efforts, all school records.
As a sophomore, she earned All-American honors after finishing fifth at the NCAA Championships, becoming the first WSU golfer, man or woman, to earn that honor. She repeated as an All-American the next year after leading the nation with five tournament wins. As a senior, she tied for third at the Pac-10 Championships, the highest finish at the conference championships by any WSU golfer, man or woman.
Sterling accomplishments, and fittingly, Welch earned a selection to the WSU Athletic Hall of Fame as a member of the 2013 class, adding to her list of achievements since leaving WSU. This included winning the Golf Channel’s Big Break Kaanapali in 2008 and, last year, earning a spot to the LPGA Tour. In March she scored a hole-in-one at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremonies brought Welch back to Pullman, and a visit with the Cougar women's golf team.
"She wanted to get to know them, which I thought was awesome," Head Coach Kelli Kamimura said. "She really wanted to engage them and learn about them instead of talking about herself.
"It shows what WSU stands for: the Cougar Family," added Kamimura. "To have someone who has achieved success, and there still is a lot out there for her to achieve, and have her come back and show these student-athletes she is interested in them is really special."
It was during the visit the team gained an understanding of what makes Welch so special.
"Talking to her she put a lot of time and effort into her game. She is very determined," said senior Mallory Kent, who began the season with a victory at the Cougar Cup two weeks after Welch’s visit. "It’s encouraging for me and it motivates me, and lets me know that I and any of my teammates can do that, too.
"It’s cool to see that she was inducted to the Hall of Fame," added Kent. "We all felt it was really cool."
"Having Kim back and with the records she’s broken and the accolades she’s earned is a good reminder of what people are capable of if you fight for it and work hard,” said Kamimura.
And Welch can equate that fight to the hill she so frequently hit into on the old driving range.
"Being a Coug, you always feel like you’re climbing uphill," Welch explained. "You never fill like you’re on top. That’s defiantly a characteristic of being a Coug, which I love.
"I always know that I have that fight in me and I gained four years of it at Washington State."