Kentucky alum Steve Flesch takes issue with high school golf changes

Photo slideshow: PGA Barbasol Championship Pro-Am at Keene Trace Golf Club

Amateurs and professionals tee off in the PGA Barbasol Championship Pro-Am Wednesday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville.
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Amateurs and professionals tee off in the PGA Barbasol Championship Pro-Am Wednesday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville.

The PGA Barbasol Championship isn’t the only golf story to make waves in Central Kentucky this month.

On July 11 the Kentucky High School Athletic Association approved sweeping changes to the format of the boys’ and girls’ state golf tournaments aimed at improving pace of play and increasing the likelihood of completing the tournaments within their scheduled time frames.

Among the most outspoken critics of the changes has been University of Kentucky alumnus and four-time PGA Tour winner Steve Flesch, who spoke to the Herald-Leader at the Barbasol Championship about the elimination of regional runners-up from the state tournament.

“For me, the fact that they’re doing everything for the sake of time, to finish sooner, is the only thing that sat really poorly with me,” Flesch said. “Maybe you have the state tournament a couple of weeks sooner before the time change, when there’s more daylight. I think there’s just a lot of other things you could look at ... maybe get two courses in play and cut after the first day.”

Under the new rules, teams must win their region tournament to advance to state. In previous years, regional champions and runners-up qualified. Last year’s girls’ state champion, Lexington Christian, qualified for the tournament as a regional runner-up. Players on teams that don’t win their region can still qualify for state as an individual. The new rules increase the number of individual qualifiers in each region from four to seven.

The KHSAA had been kicking around various proposed changes for months before settling on the new format, drawing criticism from several quarters, including from noted Kentucky golfers Justin Thomas and Josh Teater.

Flesch said the elimination of the No. 2 team in each region has the potential to spoil a lot of great competition.

“You just have to look at the fact that last year the girls’ state champion would not have gotten to the tournament,” Flesch said. “My son played golf for Covington Catholic and they got to the state twice without winning the region. To me, just eliminating kids for the sake of time wasn’t the right reason to do it.

“I’ve been outspoken because it’s kids and they’re playing competitive golf and I don’t like keeping kids from playing. The game of golf is struggling, and to tell kids who are the future of the game that they don’t have a chance to go to state isn’t how you grow the game.”

Talking horse on the course

It’s only fitting that the horse racing industry had a representative in last week’s Barbasol Championship kickoff event.

W. Elliott Walden, president and CEO of racing operations for WinStar Farm in Versailles, participated in the Barbasol Championship Pro-Am the day before the tournament began. He was on a team with pro golfer J.T. Poston, who went on to lead the Barbasol after the first round.

“It’s been so much fun,” Walden told the Herald-Leader as he made the turn during the Pro-Am. “J.T. Poston has been wonderful to play with, we’ve had a great day with him. It’s impressive to see how much rhythm these pros have and how smoothly they hit the ball. It’s not about how hard you hit it, it’s more the rhythm. It’s fun to watch.”

Like any good Kentuckian, Walden said he has his sports hierarchy in proper order.

“I would say on my list of favorites, golf comes in third behind horse racing and basketball.”

Like so many horse industry fans and insiders, Walden has been paying close attention to the recent rash of horse deaths at Santa Anita Park in California. Walden is a member of the Breeders’ Cup Board of Directors, which on June 27 voted unanimously to keep this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita.

“They’ve made a lot of good progress out there with some of the policy changes they’ve made,” Walden said. “We’re encouraged by that, that’s why we chose to have the Breeders’ Cup stay there.”

Some of those changes include a requirement that trainers apply for permission to work a horse at least 48 hours in advance, cutting the maximum dosage of race-day Lasix in half, strict limitations on the use of pain or anti-inflammatory medication, and increased out-of-competition testing.

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.