Freelove on Pebble: ‘It was awesome’
By LARRY MORITZ
Special to The Salina Journal
Throughout his golfing career, Lukas Freelove had never been as nervous as he was while standing over his tee shot on the 10th hole at the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Two days later, it reached a whole new level. Both times he handled it like a pro, while playing in the presence of professional golfers.
Freelove, a senior this fall at Salina Central High School, was one of 78 junior golfers from First Tee chapters around the country selected to compete at the PURE Insurance Championship late last month on California’s Monterey Peninsula. The annual event matches young golfers with members of the PGA Champions Tour for the three-day tournament, with Freelove representing the First Tee of Salina.
“The First Tee does such a great job of offering something that no one could just go out and do,” Freelove said. “All thanks to them because I started doing this when I was four. I’m still involved with First Tee as a coach and it’s amazing to see where I started to where I am now, and to get these amazing opportunities.”
The 54-hole PURE Insurance Championship is held at the Pebble Beach and Poppy Hills courses, with this year’s tournament Sept. 27-29. Freelove spent a week in the southern California area and played 110 holes of golf during his trip.
When he was announced in July as a 2019 participant, Freelove became the 10th individual from Salina to be selected for the honor since 2007. That includes five in the last four years, following Sacred Heart’s Grant Herrenbruck (2016) and Cole Elmore (2017), and Salina South’s Parker Renz and Parker Norton (both in 2018).
Shortly after his arrival at Pebble Beach on Tuesday, Freelove learned PGA Champions Tour professional Steve Flesch would be his playing partner for the event. Flesch, a golf analyst for FOX Sports, is a four-time champion on the PGA Tour and has one title in only two seasons on the Champions Tour.
“Steve Flesch was my partner and he was an awesome guy,” Freelove said. “He was really helpful and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better than Steve.”
Freelove had a pair of practice rounds at Poppy Hills and another at Pebble Beach before joining Flesch for the first round of the tournament Friday. They began their round on No. 10 at Pebble Beach. The ocean runs the entire length on the right side of No. 10, with the fairway sloping severely toward the ocean.
“I was doing pretty good and wasn’t that nervous,” Freelove said. “We started on No. 10 and I got to the teebox, and then it started sinking in ‘I’m about to hit a tee shot on No. 10 at Pebble Beach with a PGA Tour Champions player. That’s pretty cool.’
“On that hole you can hit your drive in the ocean pretty quickly, but I hit my tee shot and it went right down the fairway. I thought it was probably the most nerve-racking tee shot I’ll have in a while and I put it right down the fairway.”
After two rounds of competition, only the top 23 junior players advanced to Sunday’s final round at Pebble Beach. Freelove not only made the cut, but was competing in the final group of the day because Flesch was leading the tournament.
For the final 18 holes, Freelove was the only junior player in his group, which included Flesch and fellow pros Billy Andrade and Marco Dawson.
“Again I was fine on the range and then I get up to the first tee,” Freelove said. “There was a pretty decent amount of people there watching. (The pros) all put their tee shots right down the fairway, but I’m the last one to hit because I’m a teebox forward.
“I’ve been in final groups before but nothing like that. That tee shot actually went down the fairway too, so I was two-for-two. My most nerve-racking tee shot there and my second-most nerve-racking both came within a span of three days.”
Freelove finished tied for 20th with his three-day total of 66-66-71—203 (12-under). Flesch tied for ninth, while Andrade advanced to a playoff before finishing second to Kirk Triplett.
Lukas was joined on the trip by his parents, Rob and Amy Freelove. Lukas and his father were invited to play at the private Cypress Point Club — ranked No. 3 on America’s top 100 courses by Golf Digest — the day after the tournament was completed.
Although his mother does not play, Freelove said she was more nervous than he was as the event drew closer.
“My mom was a nervous wreck the night before the first round,” Freelove said. “She said she didn’t sleep and was so nervous for me, but I slept like a baby. I was beat and just fell right asleep, but my mom said she didn’t fall asleep until about 4 a.m.”
A three-time state qualifier at Salina Central, Freelove has one season of high school competition remaining in the spring, but is unsure if he will continue to play at the collegiate level. Whatever his future holds, he knows his recent experience is something he will remember throughout his life.
“It was awesome,” Freelove said of the trip. “That was an experience you don’t just get to do. You don’t just say ‘I’m going to go to Pebble Beach and play with a PGA Tour Champions player and meet so many amazing people.’ “