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Freeman wins the Pine to Palm championship


Fargo's Ben Freeman had a decision to make as his tee shot from the No. 9 tee box lay in the left rough Sunday, during his championship match against fellow Fargoian Brandon Hartzell for the 76th Pine to Palm Golf Tournament title at the Detroit Country Club.

The match was all-square, after Freeman rallied back from a two-hole deficit on the first four holes, and both golfers were looking for a turning point in the match.

Enter Freeman's nine iron and his huge tide-turning 151-yard shot from the rough to eagle No. 9, to take his first lead of the match at 1-up.

The eagle paced Freeman's back nine and eventually enabled him to build a 3-up lead. A five-foot birdie putt on 16 clinched the Pine to Palm championship for Freeman, who shot seven-under par to Hartzell's more-than-respectable three-under.

"I went to my bag and decided not to use my eight iron, because I was afraid I'd hit it over the green," Freeman said. "I went for my nine iron and my plan was to land the ball on the front of the green and let it release to the hole.

"I saw it hit, but didn't see it go in, and realized it did after a big cheer went up (from the gallery surrounding the green)."

With Hartzell's ball lying about 10-12 yards from Freeman, he wasn't too confident in his chances of halving the hole, saying, "I'm not too excited about this shot," after Freeman's spectacular eagle.

"As a competitor, it's a great way to lose a hole," said Hartzell, who is a senior on the Delta University (Miss.) men's golf team.

Freeman's seven-foot birdie putt on 11 answered a long 20-footer by Hartzell, thus halving the hole and keeping a 1-up advantage.

"That was a key putt on 11, because it enabled me to keep my 1-up lead," Freeman said. "Who knows what would have happened if it would have went back to even? That putt could have very well decided the match."

Freeman's eagle antics were not over though, as he took a 2-up lead after punching out of the right rough on 12, rolling his ball for about a 10-foot uphill eagle putt.

"I used a big draw on my approach shot and it gave me a good look for my putt," Freeman said of his second eagle of the match.

Hartzell fell into trouble after his drive on 15, landing behind the 13th green, while Freeman's tee shot was just right on the fairway.

The tough shot for Hartzell flew over the green to the deep part of the fringe high on the green, while Freeman had a relatively easy five-foot birdie putt to go 3-up -- which led up to the 16th hole, where Freeman sealed the deal on the tournament's 76th championship.

The match actually started precariously for Freeman, who began with a birdie on one -- along with Hartzell -- but sprayed a few of his shots on two through four to fall into a two-hole deficit.

Freeman couldn't find the fairway on the three holes, while blading his bunker shot on three.

"I was trying to guide my shots too much (on holes two through four), and was forcing shots," Freeman said. "At the No. 5 tee, I just told myself to get a good swing and have some good iron play."

The latter paid off, as Freeman's chip shot in the rough -- which was lying on a slope near the back bunker of the fifth green -- released downhill and came up about a foot away for the eagle.

"That chip on five for him was the turning point," said Hartzell, who was holding a 2-up lead at that point.

A tap-in by Freeman for birdie and a Hartzell par shaved the lead down to 1-up.

The match would be pulled back to even on seven, after Freeman drove the green and Hartzell's drive was in the left rough.

That led into the memorable ninth-hole eagle.

The championship for Freeman -- who is a sophomore on the Drake University men's golf team -- was a bit of redemption after a close call last year.

Freeman lost to eventual champion Cory Blenkush in the semifinals in 2007, despite shooting five-under par. Blenkush shot nine-under in the match.

"It's just awesome winning," Freeman said. "I just have gotten better and better in this tournament. I lost in the first round the first year I played, then in the second the second year and then I made the semis last year."

As for Hartzell, he said he gave his best shot. The Fargo golfer had lost in the first round his first two years of playing in the Pine to Palm.

"I didn't have a bogey (in the championship match) and my game plan was to make him play his best game. He beat me with eagles and birdies," Hartzell said. "After the fifth hole, he didn't miss any putts within 10-12 feet."

Hartzell defeated 2003 Pine to Palm champion Greg Melhus in the semifinals, while Freeman downed Dustin Steiner to advance to the title match.

Pine to Palm notes

n Detroit Lakes' Ben Bergquist played his way to the round of eight once again, before dropping his match against Freeman 1-up.

Circumstances were similar to last year, when Bergquist made the elite eight, but Freeman beat him in the quarterfinals 2 and 1.

n Of the Sweet 16 qualifiers, 12 of them were 23 years old or younger. Former Pine to Palm champions Melhus (32) and Rick Kuhn (38) made it, as well as Todd Hillier (49) and Perry Piatz (44).

n For the fifth time in eight years, the defending champion lost in the first round.

Blenkush was upended 4 and 3 by Perham golf veteran Bob Cavanagh, who earned his spot in match play after surviving a playoff in the qualifying rounds.

Cavanagh suffered his defeat in the next round, losing to DL's Mox Gunderson, 1-up in 20 holes. Gunderson was a highlight of the tournament after playing to the round of 16, before falling to eventual final four qualifier Steiner 1-up in 19 holes.

n There were co-medalists for the 15th time in tournament history -- and the first time in nine years -- as Fargo's Tim Fiechtner and Cardington, Ohio's Mark Robinson tied with a six-under two-round score of 136.

Fiechtner lost in the second round to Piatz, while Robinson made the final 16, before bowing out to Melhus 1-up.

n There is now a $5,000 reward for the apprehension of the perpetrators who vandalized the 12, 13 and 17 greens. The P-P Committee, DCC and Zorbaz is offering the reward.