Of the 20 golfers who earned full LPGA Tour status for 2013 in the tour's qualifying tournament last week, 17 were younger than Kim Welch.
At 29, Welch couldn't care less. Yes, a couple of teenagers were among those who earned a distinction Welch has pursued since she turned pro in 2005, but because Welch knows there's more to the good life than birdies, she wouldn't alter one detour.
Otherwise, she might not have great friends in Lafayette, La., whom she met while staying with host families during three seasons on the LPGA Futures Tour; or be able to say Switzerland "is the most breathtaking place I've ever been in my life," an opinion she developed traveling during two seasons on the Ladies European Tour; or have become a TV star of sorts with her win in the Golf Channel's "Big Break: Ka'anapali" reality series.
"That's what I figured out (last) summer," Welch said. "I'm on my own path. My journey has been so different, and I wouldn't change it for anything. But I do want to play golf."
After six years competing on professional tours with moderate success, Welch decided to rededicate herself this year. That meant a step back for the St. Francis High School and Washington State graduate, who stayed close to her Roseville home and worked on her focus, swing and fitness, or, as she said: "All the things I neglected over the past several years."
She started meditating "I don't know if it's helped my game, but it hasn't hurt it," she said and continued yoga. Welch played in a few events in Canada but spent six months mostly preparing for the mentally and physically draining qualifying grind. Her absence from competitive golf had friends and fellow players wondering if she had quit.
"I was off the map," Welch said. "It was probably the most important year of my golf career, and I really didn't play."
In four previous trips to the qualifying tournament, Welch said she flew to Florida a few days in advance and played a couple of practice rounds. This year, she drove to Florida in August. She wanted to get more comfortable on Bermuda greens and make the kind of commitment she hadn't made previously.
Welch advanced easily through the first qualifying stage and survived a scare at the second stage with a strong final round. At the 90-hole final stage, she shared the lead after the first round but gradually slipped back into the pack in three subsequent rounds. She was tied for 30th with 18 holes to play Sunday.
No pressure, Welch figured.
"I knew how hard I worked this year," she said. "This was the first year that I felt ready, and ready to do well. All the preparation took the pressure off."
Welch birdied her final two holes for a final round of 4-under-par 68. Her five-round total of 4-under 356 was tied for 11th place, thus avoiding a seven-woman playoff for four tour cards by one shot.
Without that 15-foot birdie putt on the 90th hole, Welch conceivably could have been back where she had been before, with partial LPGA Tour status that got her into just four tournaments in 2009 and fewer in 2010. What would she have done then?
"I hadn't even thought of that," Welch said. "It doesn't matter. That thought never crossed my mind, and thank God it doesn't have to."
With the exception of major championships, Welch will be able to set her 2013 schedule, which is increasingly important with the LPGA Tour playing half of its tournaments internationally. She should be able to improve on her career LPGA Tour earnings of $2,171.
Without a sponsor and with only one top-10 finish in 30 European Tour events in 2010-11, Welch could use a few healthy paydays.
"The experience was amazing, but I became more interested in the travel than the golf, and my results showed it," she said.
Welch may be 29, but she's rejuvenated and isn't scared of teenagers.
"I feel young," she said, laughing.
The drive home is going to fly by.