BY MIKE FIELDS
If not for the siren song of the Old Course at St. Andrews calling, Steve Flesch would have jumped at the chance to play in the Barbasol Championship this summer.
Flesch was offered an exemption into the PGA TOUR event that will be contested at Champions at Keene Trace July 16-22, but a scheduling conflict will keep him from accepting it.
Flesch, who turned 50 last summer, will be headed overseas to play in the British Senior Open instead.
“If it wasn’t the Senior Open at St. Andrews, I’d certainly be at Champions,” Flesch said. “But I have to leave that Saturday (July 21) to get (to Scotland).”
Flesch played in the Open Championship at St. Andrews in 2000 and 2005.
“I would imagine this will be the last time I play in competition on that course, and I can’t pass that up,” he said. “Believe me, if not for that, I’d love to play (in the Barbasol Championship), and hopefully in the next year or two we can make that happen.”
After all, the former University of Kentucky standout has a history at Champions.
In 1989, he lost in a five-hole playoff to Rob McNamara in the Kentucky Open, the first big event played at the Arthur Hills-designed course in Jessamine County.
In 1991, Flesch won his first tournament as a professional, breezing to the Kentucky Open title at Champions after an opening-round 62.
Twenty-seven years later, his 10-under score still stands as the course record.
When bd Global, the host organization for the tournament, held a press conference last summer to announce that the Barbasol Championship was coming to Champions at Keene Trace, Flesch was on hand to help publicize the tournament and take part in a Skins Game competition. Hanging in the locker room was his framed “62” scorecard that includes an eagle and nine birdies.
Flesch doesn’t recall a lot about that August afternoon in 1991, except for a laser 1-iron that set up his eagle at the par-5 11th hole, and an unlikely birdie at the 18th.
“On 18, I remember I had a good lie but an awkward stance,” he said. “I hoisted a 7-iron up in the air and the ball kind of knuckled out of there and came down perfect. That green is so small, and the ball could’ve gone anywhere. But shots like that are how you shoot a 62. Fortunate things happen and you take advantage of them.”
Flesch has no idea if his course record will hold up during the Barbasol Championship, but he is sure the tournament will be a big hit with golf fans.
“I know we’ve had PGA Championships and the Ryder Cup in Louisville, which is fantastic because those are such marquee events,” he said. “But those only happen every four or five years. Bringing the PGA TOUR to Lexington, which is a great sports town, year after year after year is going to be a home run.”
“The PGA TOUR is the best quality golf in the world. The distance those guys hit it and the scores they shoot will amaze people. It’s going to be a great experience for everybody to go check out.”
Flesch also expects Champions at Keene Trace to provide challenging, entertaining golf.
“If the course stays firm and fast, those greens are pretty tough,” he said. “If conditions are soft, the scores will be low. But let’s face it, 15-, 16-, 17-under par is what wins most PGA TOUR events anyway. It’s fun to watch guys make birdies.
“If scores are lower, so be it. If they’re higher, so be it. Regardless what those guys shoot, it’s going to be an exciting week.”
Flesch, a left-hander who won four times on the PGA TOUR, now plays the PGA TOUR Champions for golfers 50-and-over.
“I enjoy competing again,” he said. “The nice thing about this tour is you’ll play two or three weeks in a row, then have a week or two off. It works out pretty good.”
That allows Flesch to enjoy other endeavors, like working as an on-course reporter for FOX Sports’ TV coverage of the U.S. Open.
And he has some free time to watch basketball.
A loyal Covington Catholic alum (he led the Colonels to the 1984 state golf title), he cheered on his alma mater to its second Sweet 16 title in five years a few weeks ago. He was in Rupp Arena for all four of CovCath’s victories, including its decisive win over No. 1 Scott County in the state championship game.
And even though he won’t be around for the weekend of the Barbasol Championship, Flesch may still make it to Lexington to see the first tee shots fly.
“I’m kind of sad that I’m going to miss (playing in) the first one,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I might not stop down there early in the week to see how things are going.”