Freeman prepares to defend title
After his 2008-09 Division I college men's golf season with the Drake Bulldogs, junior Ben Freeman knew he had to fix his putting game.
Freeman, who will be defending his 2008 Pine to Palm championship starting Aug. 13, when match play begins at the Detroit Country Club, converted to a long-putter to address his putting problems.
Freeman, who hails from Fargo, recorded a 74.3 stroke average based on 11 rounds for Drake during the fall season, while posting a 77.1 average for the spring season based on 10 rounds.
But after a solid summer of playing golf, Freeman's putting game is back up to par.
"I was striking the ball better and hitting all my fairways and making my greens in regulation," Freeman said of his college season. "But I needed to work on my short game from 125 yards in. My putting average was around 32 to 33 a round, which that number should be around 28."
With his conversion to the long putter, Freeman said his putting has improved for the better, which can only mean he will be entering the 77th Pine to Palm Tournament as an improved version from his championship form of last year.
"I've made some good strides this summer," Freeman said. "By using the long putter, my speed control is better and I'm seeing my putting average go down."
During his college season, Freeman's three-putt average on a hole was one to two times per round.
But this summer during competitive play and practice rounds, he's had only about one or two the entire offseason.
"It's been a huge difference," Freeman added. "If I can get my putting average down to the 1.5 mark, I can start getting my (score) down to the 72-73 range."
His improved putting has already paid off during his play in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Tournament, which was held July 13-18, at the Jimmie Austin/OU Golf Club in Norman, Okla.
Freeman shot a four-under par 68 during the first day of qualifying, which tied him for third place.
His play dropped off a bit after carding an 81 in the second round, but it was enough to qualify him for match play.
But Freeman ran into a buzzsaw and eventual champion Brad Benjamin of Rockford, Ill., in the first round.
Benjamin shot a three-under par 69 in the match, while Freeman held his own with an even-par performance.
"I had high expectations going into the tournament," Freeman said. "It is a good golf course to play and my plan was to keep around par and I thought I would be in it. But (Benjamin) shot his best round of the tournament against me and that happens in match play.
"It all comes down to one day. It was a disappointment, but at least I didn't give it away."
The rest of Freeman's summer schedule is winding down, with only the Pine to Palm and a U.S. Amateur qualifier left, before he starts college back up at Drake.
Freeman actually considered bypassing his bye into match play, since the defending champion doesn't have to qualify for the field of 64 and also gains the automatic No. 1 seed.
"I thought about it, but I decided to take the two qualifying rounds off," Freeman said. "It wouldn't have been too bad to play the two rounds and get into that competitive mode, though."
Freeman has experienced plenty of success in the Pine to Palm in his two years of playing in it, with two trips to the semifinals -- the final one resulting in a championship after he defeated Brandon Hartzell 3 and 2 in the title match last year.
It was a three-hole stretch of nine through 11, which keyed Freeman's championship, starting with an eagle on nine when he sunk a 151-yard shot from the left rough to take a 1-up edge.
"Hole 11 was really key with me being 1-up," Freeman said. "(Hartzell) just made a 20-foot birdie and then I rolled my (birdie) right on top of his. I've been in that position before against (2007 champion) Cory Blenkush, where he rolled his birdie putt on top of mine.
Freeman also realizes it will be another competitive field, but he is bringing in confidence, but not the over-confidence kind.
The Fargo native will also be fighting history, since the last time a golfer has repeated as Pine to Palm champion was in 1976-77 when Bill Israelson completed the feat.
"I'm a better player than I was last year," he added. "I know there are some good younger golfers who will be there. But no matter who you play, you need to play well. I feel I'm ready and I feel my game is there."