Ex-Cat set the course record 28 years ago. It still stands as he returns for PGA event.

Photo slideshow: PGA Barbasol Championship opening round

The PGA Barbasol Championship opening round Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville.
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The PGA Barbasol Championship opening round Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville.

The PGA Barbasol Championship marks a bit of a homecoming for a former University of Kentucky golfer.

UK alumnus and Cincinnati native Steve Flesch has seen his share of success since turning pro in 1990. He was named the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 1998 and has won nine tournaments as a professional, including four PGA events.

Though he’s not spent much time in central Kentucky since leaving UK, Flesch has a storied history with Keene Trace Golf Club’s Champions Course. Competing in his final event as a 22-year-old amateur in 1989, Flesch was runner-up in the Kentucky Open, losing in a five-hole playoff. Two years later, Flesch returned to the Kentucky Open at Keene Trace and fired a course record 62 in the first round on his way to winning the title.

That history with Keene Trace could give Flesch, a regular on the Champions Tour, an advantage over much of the field as he tries to win his first PGA Tour event since 2007. Flesch missed last year’s Barbasol Championship, opting instead to try his hand at the British Open. But after Wednesday’s Pro-Am, Flesch said he was glad circumstances allowed him to return to central Kentucky for this year’s Barbasol.

“It’s been 30 years, really, since I’ve been down here. I really haven’t been since I got out of school at UK,” Flesch said. “It’s just nice to come back. The course has changed a little bit, it’s a little bit longer than I remember it from when I played in the state open. But it’s just nice to get back to Lexington.”

The Barbasol could mark the beginning of a renewed relationship with central Kentucky for Flesch. His 20-year-old son, Griffin, just transferred to UK from Xavier.

“Spending some time on campus with him and being back in the city has been a lot of fun the last couple of days.”

Flesch said it will also be a lot of fun competing against the player who tied his course record, defending Barbasol champion Troy Merritt, who matched Flesch with a 62 in last year’s opening round.

“The funny thing is, I did it when there weren’t any of these long tees out here, so he obviously probably played a better, longer round of golf,” Flesch said. “But, I did it with the older equipment. So I don’t know, maybe they even out. But the fact that I’m still tied for the record is really cool.”

Flesch finished his opening round Thursday with an even-par 72.

First tee, Kentucky

Most University of Kentucky football fans probably feel a Pavlovian surge of excitement whenever they hear the phrase “First down, Kentucky!”

Carl Nathe has been serenading Commonwealth Stadium and Kroger Field crowds with those five syllables since becoming UK football’s public address announcer in 1997. This week at the Barbasol Championship, he’s taking his vocal talents to the golf course.

For the second year in a row Nathe has joined the group of volunteers who are helping run the event at Keene Trace. He is announcing golfers’ names as they tee off on hole No. 1 to begin competition each day.

“Last year it was really neat to meet all the golfers,” Nathe said. “It was a great event even though the weather didn’t really cooperate.”

Nathe said he’s been a lifelong fan of golf, and he’s happy to have a regular PGA event in Kentucky.

“I started playing golf when I was about 12, and the first tournament I ever went to was in 1967. It was the Westchester Golf Classic at Westchester Golf Club in suburban New York. I’ve been to and covered a bunch since then.

“When I found out they were going to have this tournament last year I very much wanted to be a part of it. I’ve always wanted to do something like this, so it’s been a great experience.”

Teater’s team takes Pro-Am

Morehead State graduate and Lexington resident Josh Teater was part of the squad that won Wednesday’s shamble-style Pro-Am tournament that kicked off the Barbasol Championship. Teater and fellow professional Robert Garrigus played nine holes each to lead their team to a one-shot victory.

A star-studded group that featured defending Barbasol champion Troy Merritt and University of Kentucky football offensive coordinator Eddie Gran finished in fourth place.

Josh Sullivan has worked at the Herald-Leader for more than 10 years in multiple capacities, including as a news assistant, page designer, copy editor and sports reporter. He is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Lexington native.