By Doug McPherson, Contributor, Golf Business
You read it here first. Remember the name Nick Freis. Sure, every day someone in the world of golf says you better keep an eye open for this kid or that kid. But when Randy Smith, the coach of PGA Tour superstar Scottie Scheffler, says Freis has as much, or more, natural talent as Scheffler, then maybe you should take note.
Freis, 24, picked up the sport competitively in his freshman year at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. He then walked on to the team in his sophomore year, and by his senior year he had risen to number one, not to mention that he set the Spring Hill College Golf Course record, a 63.
Today he’s playing well enough to get the attention of the company Rockerbox, an NGCOA “smart buy” partner that helps courses recover pandemic-related funds. Rockerbox has announced it is bankrolling Freis over the next 18 months, picking up his entry fees and some of his travel expenses, as he attempts to enter the PGA Tour.
And while Freis’s talent is obvious, it’s always worth noting that no one scales a mountain alone. Freis is quick to credit courses that have helped him develop his game. There is no doubt that Spring Hill is one, and possibly his favorite.
“I fell in love with the game on that course,” Freis says during a break from training in Dallas. “I’ve spent so many hours on that course, put in a lot of work there. It’s so nostalgic. It’s where I first shot in the 90s then the 80s and finally down to par.”
Gabe Shinn, golf instructor and assistant pro at Spring Hill, says the course has some great holes and nuances that make players hit a lot of different shots, especially off the tee.
“It also has some fade/draw holes, tough par threes with elevated greens and some very tricky, grainy, Bermuda greens that keep it from being too getable,” Shinn says. “Nick also made the switch from basketball to golf on our driving range, so the range is pretty special to him. I've never seen someone work and practice as hard as Nick.”
Shinn adds that he believes course owners should work to find a way to allow players like Nick to have access to a great practice facility, one that includes a designated range roped for privacy and allows those players to go play on the course when the tee sheet allows.
“If our players check in with the coach or myself, and the course is clear, we encourage them to play and just refill divots and fix ball marks and do the things to help us out as well,” Shinn says. “I think that's what we did a great job with at Spring Hill.”
Freis agrees with Shinn, particularly on the issue of course practice facilities. He says he spent the majority of his college life on Spring Hill’s range and putting green.
“Practice facilities are one of the first things I look for in a course – practice facilities that are well kept,” Freis says. “I like chipping greens that show me what my shot is really going to do. I’ve played on some that were in such bad shape that they weren’t even worth my time. At driving ranges, it’s nice to have good range balls. And I look for putting greens that are healthy and have been well maintained.”
In general, Freis says when he’s looking for courses, he likes affordability and to see a lot of different holes with elevation changes, courses that challenge him to get better each day and courses that aren’t too hard or too easy.
“I don’t have a home course or a club course. Some of my teammates grew up as members of country clubs and they had home courses,” he says. “I would bounce around and sneak on driving ranges, that’s the kind of player I was. I go to municipal courses and a lot of the time it’s crowded. I envy players who have nice country clubs and good facilities. That’s a big factor in getting better. Every pro has a club where they practice.”
Freis hesitates a moment – he’s thinking about his time in college and the Spring Hill course.
“It wasn’t the nicest course but it let me do what I needed to do. It’s why I was able to get as good as I have.”
This article was featured in the July/August edition of Golf Business magazine.