Recruit well enough long enough as a women's college golf coach and, eventually, quality golfers will start knocking on your door.
Grace Welch knocked. Lee Reinke answered. And, just like that, what is likely to be the UW-Green Bay's entire 2020 recruiting class was filled.
Welch, a rising senior at Madison Edgewood and No. 5 on Wisconsin.golf's Class of 2020 in-state rankings, orally committed to the Phoenix last week. She told Wisconsin.golf that she was also considering North Dakota State, Loyola (Chicago), Northern Illinois and Ball State, where her sister Mary played two years after transferring from UW-Stevens Point in 2012.
The three-time WIAA Division 2 state qualifier led Madison Edgewood to its 14th state girls golf championship last fall. Welch finished third at the state tournament as a freshman, fifth as a sophomore and third again as a junior.
It spoke volumes that Welch's fondness for UW-Green Bay developed out of an initial unofficial visit — in February. It wasn't exactly the kind of climate to which a future golfer might be drawn, but there was so much more to the NCAA Division I school on the northeastern edge of town that Welch liked.
"I knew that I wanted to go to a school in the Midwest, not too far from home, but also not too close," the Business major wrote via text to Wisconsin.golf. "I didn’t want to go to a huge school, and UW-Green Bay’s enrollment is about 7,000, which sounded perfect to me. The academic opportunities at UW-Green Bay fit my personal aspirations. I was impressed with the Kress Center at UW-Green Bay, including the workout area, indoor practice facilities, and nutrition area for athletes. The women’s golf team has a very high average GPA, which indicated that they are serious about being a student-athlete."
Indeed, the Phoenix ranked No. 13 among Division I schools in the Women's Golf Coaches Association All-Scholar Team national rankings with a 3.744 grade-point average. Last spring, UWGB finished sixth out of eight teams at the Horizon League Championship, but just five shots out of the top five.
The Phoenix will lose its first golfer to graduation in two years this spring when Alix Larson closes out her four-year run in the program. Welch will join seven returning golfers when she arrives on campus in the fall of 2020.
"I see myself contributing to the golf program with my athletic ability and strong work ethic," Welch wrote. "Even though golf is considered an individual sport, I love being part of a team and supporting each other and pushing each other to do our best. I hope to meet the expectations of being a good teammate and representing Green Bay in a positive way."
Entering her senior season, Welch is starting to show signs of the kind of consistency that could make her a hidden gem for Reinke by next fall.
After shooting 84-75 and finishing 11th at the Wisconsin PGA Junior Championship and 84-79 to place fourth at the Wisconsin Dells Junior Championship, Welch shot rounds of 79-77 at the Golf Courses of Lawsonia in Green Lake in early July and won the WPGA Players Tour event for her first win in a WPGA Junior points event since a Futures event at Vitense Golfland in Madison in 2013 when she only played one or two events a summer.
Injuries limited her schedule until last summer when she posted three top-10 finishes in six WPGA Junior points events before her junior year at Edgewood. After finishing 10th at the Badger South Conference Championship, Welch shared medalist honors at the WIAA Division 2 Prairie du Chien regional with three of her Crusaders teammates and then took second to University of Sioux Falls-bound Annie Balduzzi of La Crosse Aquinas at the Edgewood sectional.
"In the late fall/early winter of my junior year, I decided to reach out to Coach Reinke and other schools I was interested in," Welch wrote. "After some communication over the following months, I was able to set up an unofficial visit to UW-Green Bay in February. The visit went well, and I knew that I wanted to keep in touch and keep Green Bay in mind as an option for my future. In the meantime, I organized my tournament schedule for the spring and summer, and I shared it with Coach Reinke once it was completed.
"We kept in touch about results and scores throughout the summer. Coach Reinke was able to come and watch me play in a tournament at the end of July. At this point, I knew that UW-Green Bay was my No. 1 choice."
And, as it turned out, Welch was Reinke's No. 1 choice, too.