By Cam Huffman
Butch Freeman’s golf game wasn’t bad. He carded an opening-round 80 Saturday at the par-72 Grandview Country Club to start off the 33rd BNI Memorial Golf Classic, beating two much younger players in his group. But the trip around the course was much more about memories than birdies.
The 2013 edition of the tournament — sponsored by First Community Bank, the event’s major sponsor, and with sponsorship assistance from Lewis Automotive — was played in memory of Andy Holland, and that was on Freeman’s mind with nearly every stroke.
Freeman — who was an assistant basketball coach at Woodrow Wilson for 25 years, including all 17 when Dave Barksdale strolled the sidelines as head coach — became friends with Holland when the two taught together at Stoco Junior High from 1973 through 1976, often squeezing in a round on the links after work. They remained close up until Holland lost his life to cancer in 2011. On Saturday, Freeman played with Holland’s bag, several of his clubs and a heavy heart.
“I was really glad (the BNI) honored him,” said Freeman after finishing his round. “He was a great friend — a longtime friend — and a very good player.
“I taught him everything he knows,” he continued with a laugh.
The two old buddies were connected by both golf and basketball.
Holland was the head girls basketball coach and assistant boys coach at Liberty High School while Freeman was an assistant at Woodrow Wilson. Freeman often refereed girls’ games that Holland coached, and their conversations in the golf cart often included basketball strategy and stories.
Holland’s golf game improved greatly when he moved away from the Mountain State, especially during his time in Texas.
While living in El Paso, Texas, he played at the El Paso Country Club, where he became acquatinted with PGA TOUR golfer Rich Beem, the 2002 PGA Championship winner. Later, while living in Fort Worth, Texas, he got to know another PGA TOUR member, two-time winner J.J. Henry, and he learned a lot from both of those professionals.
Holland’s golf game became strong enough that he won the 1985 BNI title. He came close on several other occasions.
No matter where he lived, Holland — who was adopted at an early age by a family in Glen Daniel — regularly returned to West Virginia, and those visits almost always included a round of golf with Freeman.
“We had a lot of great rounds and made a lot of fun trips together,” Freeman remembered.
In 2008, Holland returned to West Virginia for good, working and playing regularly at The Resort at Glade Springs.
He won the 2009 West Virginia Senior Amateur, with Freeman as his caddie, and nearly captured that title again in 2010, finishing second.
The competitive rounds, though, aren’t the ones Freeman remembers the most.
“He was a friend to everybody,” the former Woodrow Wilson assistant explained. “He never had any bad words to say and was just a good person. Everybody enjoyed playing with him, because he would joke around and was fun to play with.”
The last round Holland and Freeman played together came at Pine Needles Golf Resort in North Carolina in February of 2011. Freeman said Holland was starting to have some physical trouble at that time, and upon his return to Beckley, doctors found lesions on his liver. He passed away that May.
Freeman has often carried his friend’s clubs since his death, and he regularly uses Holland’s 3-wood on the course.
“Every time I hit it, I think of him,” Freeman said.
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Golf trips with Holland weren’t the only memories that came flooding back to Freeman’s mind on Saturday. The veteran coach was paired with two of his former players — Tink Brown and J.T. Bradley for the opening round — and that also led to a great deal of reflection.
Brown, Freeman remembered, was a member of the 1990 Flying Eagle team that was recognized on ESPN for averaging more than 100 points per game.
His most vivid memory of Bradley was a win he helped snatch from the jaws of defeat against Preston County, when he made a last-second steal and then converted a pair of foul shots to give Woodrow Wilson a victory.
Freeman said Brown and Bradley aren’t quite as accomplished on the golf course, but that athleticism still shines through.
“I’m really proud of them for how good they swing and hit the ball,” said Freeman, a former president of the West Virginia Golf Association. “I’m glad they’re playing golf, but they were outstanding basketball players.”
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.