Sterling finish for Freeman

From the The Brunswick News

Not even a Dru Love course record of 62 would have done much good during Sunday's final round of the 64th Golden Isles Invitational at Brunswick Country Club.

Not with the way Dylan Freeman was playing.

In a year in which the tournament field was projected to be as strong as any of the previous 63, Freeman left everyone in his proverbial dust with a final round of 9-under 63, just one shot off the record set by Love, son of Sea Island touring pro Davis Love III and winner of the 2011 Invitational.

Freeman added his tournament-low round to a pair of 67s in the first two rounds to compile a 19-under 197, a new 54-hole record for the prestigious amateur event.

"I've gotten close (to winning this tournament) the past two times, so I guess they say the third time's the charm," said Freeman, who was tied for the lead after both of the first two rounds. "It's pretty special to win.

"I just hit the ball well and putted great this week. It's hard to say there was anything wrong this week because there really wasn't. I just played solid all 54 holes."

The tournament's final round was scheduled for Saturday, but many players' rounds were suspended by a fierce thunderstorm that blew through the area Saturday afternoon.

Freeman, who just completed his college golf career with a banner season at College of Coastal Georgia in which he led the team to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championship and garnered first-team All-America honors, said the 63 Sunday was his lowest score in tournament play.

Runner-up Travis Williamson, a Glynn Academy graduate now playing college golf at Armstrong Atlantic State in Savannah, also fired his lowest round ever, an 8-under 64 to finish at 15-under 201.

Beginning his day at 7 under and three shots behind co-leaders Freeman and good friend Scott Wolfes, Williamson said he did exactly what he wanted to do on Sunday, draining nine birdies to go with a bogey, and was surprised his best still left him four shots off Freeman's pace.

"I figured if I could put some heat on him early, he might flinch a little bit," said Williamson, who carded rounds of 67 and 70 the first two days. "I knew how deep he was on (the 16th hole). I figured it'd be close, and then I saw it, and it wasn't even close.

"He just played great. You just have to tip your cap to a round like that."

Williamson nearly holed out from the fairway on the par-4 ninth hole, which would have given him an eagle. He then made birdies at 11, 12 and 13 to get to 13 under and one shot behind Freeman.

Freeman, however, effectively slammed the door shut with an eagle on the par-5 12th hole that got him to 16 under. After a rare miss off the tee into the rough, Freeman still landed on the green in two, then sunk a winding putt from nearly 40 feet.

"I've had (that putt) a bunch of times," Freeman said. "I just knew it broke right. I really wasn't trying to make it. I just wanted to lag it up there within a foot, and I ended up hitting it perfect."

Wolfes, also a Glynn graduate now starring for the Georgia Southern golf team, said he knew that putt all but sealed the win for his final-round playing partner. Wolfes' 65 on Friday left he and Freeman tied atop the final-round leaderboard.

"He played about as good of a round as you can, that's for sure," said Wolfes, a rising senior at Southern who carded a 2-under 70 Sunday to give him a third-place finish at 12 under. "When he made that, I knew he was just going to have to mess up."

Freeman did not mess up, however, closing with birdies on Nos. 14, 15 and 17 to give him a back nine score of 31.

The new champion said he had gained a new level of confidence in his game entering this week's tournament.

"I've just been able to think about my game one shot at a time, and that's really helped me a lot," Freeman said. "I just started playing a little better this week than I had been."

Freeman said his approach to the 17th hole Sunday was an example of how his new mentality has helped him. That hole was his undoing in the 2013 Invitational when a double bogey paved the way for St. Simons Island's Josh Williams to win his first-ever Isles title. Williams played with Freeman in the final group Sunday but struggled his way to a 3-over 75 to finish 5 under -- only three shots worse than last year's winning total but 14 off the blistering pace set by Freeman.

This time, Freeman arched an 8-iron into the center of the 17th green, which he said was his plan no matter what the scores looked like, and the ball trickled down toward the hole before resting 6 feet from the cup.

"Instead of thinking that putt was to go 9 under, I started thinking it was just a normal putt," he said.

Jeff Knox finished fourth at 10-under 206 in the Championship A flight, Paxton Shuman was fifth at 6 under, B. Mills Rendell and Mac Butler joined Williams at 5 under, Tye Waller was alone at 3 under, and Love and Henry Mabbett finished at even-par 216.

Glynn Academy graduate and Hall of Fame broadcaster Steve Melnyk, a three-time winner of the Golden Isles Invitational and a former U.S. and British Amateur champion, won his first Senior division title on Sunday, carding a 2-over 74 to finish at 4 under for the tournament.

Melnyk, 67, said he struggled Sunday, but his first-round 68 and second-round 70 gave him a big enough cushion to win by five shots over 2013 Senior champion Joel Willis. Eleven-time Invitational champion Bill Ploeger was third among the Seniors, one shot back of Willis.

"I putted awful," Melnyk said. "Never missed so many little putts."

Melnyk, Willis and Ploeger played together in the leader's group of the Senior division, and Melnyk said it was another great time with old friends.

"Bill and I have played for 50 years, so playing with him was special," Melnyk said. "The course was in fabulous shape. It's just fun playing with these guys."

Release Date: 7/7/2014
Source: The Brunswick News

Photo by Nathan Deen