Emptying the notebook after the 70th Press Thornton Future Masters …
Runner-up Maxwell Ford of Peachtree Corners, Ga., and champion Jacob Free of Selma put on a great show Saturday. The two separated themselves from the field over the first two days – with Ford shooting a record 61 in the first round and Free firing a 62 in the second.
Ford’s downhill chip-in for birdie on the 17th hole – before Free knocked in a three-foot birdie putt on top of it – kept the pair tied going to the final hole. Ford deserved better than a three-putt bogey on the final hole, but Free played bogey-free and erased a three-shot deficit over the final 11 holes to win the prestigious event.
The day before, both were cautious about their expectations for the final round.
Asked what winning the tournament would mean to him, Ford thought a moment and shook his head.
“I’m not focused on winning, really,” he said. “I just want to play the golf course. Put it in the fairway on No. 1 and just play golf. The results will take care of themselves.”
Free also wasn’t into predictions.
“It’s hard to back up a 62, but I’m going to do the best I can,” the eventual champion said.
Nice finish: One of their playing partners, Harrison Davis of Fort Payne, blasted in for birdie from the sand trap guarding the right side of the 18th green.
Davis, who tied for third at 4-under-par 206 with Austin Coggin of Birmingham and Maxwell Ford’s twin brother, David Ford, won the 17-18 age division after struggling early in the round.
“I finished strong, which makes it a little better going home,” said Davis, a Mississippi State commit.
Last time: Coggin, a regular in the field for several years, fired a final-round 65 in his final Future Masters. The Vestavia Hills graduate, who will play college golf at Auburn, won the Class 7A individual state championship in May.
“My last junior tournament round, to go out with a 65 is pretty fun,” Coggin said. “I can’t thank Dothan enough for so many years. It’s been great.”
Coggin knew everyone besides Maxwell Ford and Free was playing for third after their spectacular play through two rounds.
“We’re playing for pride and to show that you’re here and one of the big dogs,” Coggin said. “Max is playing great. Jones is playing great. Hats off to them.”
How’d I do? With most eyes on his twin brother, David Ford had a tremendous 65 on Saturday and finished tied for third.
“My ball-striking was good all day. The putter just got hotter,” David Ford said after he missed only one green, No. 17, and got up-and-down for par.
His surge came without a glimpse at the scoreboard.
“On the first day of the tournament, I was 2-under through nine and looked at the board and that kind of hurt me,” Ford said. “I’ve had my blowups in the past after looking at leaderboards, so I try to do anything I can not to look at them. I didn’t look at it a single time and it really helped me out.”
David and Maxwell are identical twins, but they have a triplet, sister Abigail.
“We’re ‘mirrored twins,’” David explained. “He (Maxwell) plays golf right-handed and I’m left-handed. My mom said it’s rare. The only other mirrored twins I’ve ever met are girl twins here in Dothan.”
Strong stretches: Ian Glanton of Metter, Ga., started his final round in style with birdies on his first three holes.
Cooper Smith of Tampa went 3-under on consecutive holes Nos. 14 and 15 with an eagle and a birdie on Saturday.
“I had 115 (yards) to the pin and hit a three-quarter wedge,” Smith said. “It took one hop past the hole and came back in. We couldn’t really see it go in, but I saw my dad’s hands go up. It was pretty cool. I felt a lot of momentum after that hole-out.”
He drained a 12-foot birdie putt on the next hole.
Making it count: John Gaal of Mobile made the most of a last-minute opportunity. Gaal was an alternate at the start of last week, but a late withdrawal opened up a spot late Tuesday afternoon in the 15-18 age division, which started Thursday.
Gaal had never played in the Future Masters, but his father quickly accepted the invitation when it was extended Tuesday.
Gaal promptly shot a 1-under-par 69 in the opening round. He shot 73 on Friday and 77 in the final round. He tied for 60th, a very respectable showing in his Future Masters debut.
“I had some nerves, but I think that’s what helped me,” Gaal said after his 69.
Big shoes to fill: Free, 16, has two more years of eligibility at the Future Masters. He is a deserving champion.
He joins a roster of past champions that reads like a who’s-who of golf. But even more recently, Dothan golfers Thomas Ponder, the 2017 overall champion, and Hal Dove, the champion in 2018, have been nothing but class acts who have represented their home club extremely well.
Glenn Northcutt was the last Dothan player to win the overall Future Masters title in 2003. Ponder broke the drought two years ago and Dove edged Ponder on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff last year.
For every advantage of playing a big tournament on your home course, there may be just as many disadvantages. It’s not easy to do.
Whether they shot 65, 75 or 85, their demeanor never changed. You have to respect that.