There was a time when the golf course was the last place Kyle Weldon wanted to spend a day.
Now it’s where he does some of his best work.
The Parkway South graduate and Kansas State soon-to-be sophomore is one of the more talented young hackers in the area. Recently he won the United States Amateur Golf Championship qualifier at Gateway National Golf Links in Madison, Ill.Weldon, 19, shot a two-day total of 140 to put him ahead of runners-up Wes Hilden and Ted Maloney, who each shot 143. All three qualified for the U.S. Amateur Championship August 13-19 at Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills Village,Colo.
“It’s a pretty big accomplishment in my eyes,” Weldon said. “It’s pretty crazy.”
Crazier when you consider there were days as a kid Weldon hated grabbing his sticks and hitting the links. His father took Weldon and his older brother to the course regularly in their youth.
“I was four or five,” the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Weldon said. “I used to dread going to the golf course.”
Weldon said he wasn’t very good and didn’t have a passion for the game. He was more interested in soccer. When he was 9 he joined his first club soccer team and met someone who would change his life forever -- Ben Crancer. The pair became fast friends and still are. As kids the two realized they belonged to the same country club and started spending some time on the course. Crancer, of Kirkwood, is also one of the area’s top golfers. He'll play collegiate golf at Texas A&M. As a youth his skills shined through.
When Weldon went out and played with his new friend, he got beat, bad.
“I wasn’t very good,” Weldon said. “He was head and shoulders above me.”
Losing to his friend didn’t sit well with Weldon. It became a competitive itch he had to scratch time and again. His love for the game grew as his skills improved. It wasn’t long before Weldon was carving up every youth golf organization he could join. The guy who thought golf spoiled a day couldn’t imagine a day without it in his life.
But as his talents matured he discovered how cruel the game can be. Weldon has had his share of close calls on the course, and many of them haven’t gone his way. He led the Class 4 state tournament after the first round as a junior and senior and watched as someone else walked off with the state title. He lost a qualifier for the Junior Amateur Championship on a playoff. He was within a whisker of qualifying for the U.S. Public Links Championship only to finish as the second alternate.
Those hard lessons have helped shape Weldon’s game on the course and between the ears. He learned that you can’t worry about the last shot or the next shot. All you can do is worry about the shot that’s in front of you. He felt his narrow focus was what pushed him over the top at Gateway National.
“That’s what I did better than anything. I stayed in the present. I was creeping through each hole,” he said. “I feel my mental game was better than it’s ever been.”
A dynamite putter sure didn’t hurt. Weldon can blast the ball out of the tee box with the best of them. But he said his low score came from a putter that was so hot it could have melted his bag.
“After the first three holes (on the first day) my putting was phenomenal,” he said. “I didn’t miss a putt under 10 feet. I was making everything.”
That, too, is a credit to his mind. Weldon was able to push out the pressure in those tight moments and focus on the task at hand.
“Putting is so mental,” he said. “You’re standing over a putter and you’re under all the pressure.”
Pressure is something Weldon won’t have when he tees off at the U.S. Amateur Championship. He’s going into the tournament with the hope of playing well and just giving himself a chance. If all goes well, wonderful. If not, he’ll take his lessons and head back to Kansas State, where he was the team's best scorer last fall. Either way, only good things can come from this experience.
Which is a far cry from when golf was the last way Weldon wanted to spend a day.