Freeman vs. Nietfeldt for 56th Nebraska Match Play Title
Quarterfinals and Semifinals Conducted Thursday at Beatrice Country Club
BEATRICE (June 29, 2023) – It is the No. 1 seed versus the No. 2 seed in the Final of the 56th Nebraska Match Play Championship, after Table Rock's Calvin Freeman and Elkhorn's Ryan Nietfeldt advanced through the Quarterfinals and Semifinals on Thursday at Beatrice Country Club.
Freeman and Nietfeldt will play in the 36-hole Final on Friday to decide the championship. Whoever wins will be the second-straight mid-amateur (25+) to win the title, after 15-straight years of college golfers winning. It would be a first NebGolf title for Freeman, while Nietfeldt would make history in multiple ways. He would be the oldest champion (47) in Nebraska Match Play history, and he'd secure a record-tying 11th NebGolf men's title. It would also be the longest span between victories in the championship by five years.
Omaha's Pete Godwin is the oldest champion in Nebraska Match Play history, winning in 2001 at 44-years-old. Lincoln's Knox Jones owns the longest span between wins mark, having won in 1979 and then 15 years later in 1994. Nietfeldt won his title in 2003, and has a chance to win 20 years later. Fremont's John Sajevic has won 11 NebGolf titles, and Nietfeldt could match that mark as well.
Freeman, the Southeast Community College golf coach and former Husker, faced Nietfeldt in the 2020 Semifinals. Nietfeldt triumphed that year, 3 and 2, before falling in the Final and finishing runner-up for a record third time. He's in the Final for a record-tying fifth time as well, matching another Jones mark. Freeman finished runner-up at the Nebraska Amateur in 2020 as well, but has not won a NebGolf title yet.
Both players faced some intense battles on Thursday. Freeman caught fire in the morning Quarterfinals, but needed every last birdie to take down the 2020 Champion Luke Kluver of Norfolk. He made seven of those birdies, plus a conceded eagle, and was 9-under during the match, but Kluver took him to the 18th hole. Kluver tied the match with a birdie on the par-3 15th hole, but Freeman answered by sticking his second shot close on No. 16 and won the hole after it was conceded. Both players made birdie on No. 17, and Freeman had a birdie putt conceded after Kluver made bogey on No. 18, to give him a 2-up victory.
Nietfeldt had himself a challenge against Elkhorn's Danny Woodhead in the Quarters. He was 3-down with three holes to play, and won all three to force extra holes. The two then proceeded to make five-straight pars, and tied the 24th hole (No. 6) with a bogey. Nietfeldt finally was able to roll in a birdie on the 25th hole (No. 7) to end the marathon match. It was one hole shy of the longest match in championship history. Aaron Stockton of Bellevue defeated Alex Carper of Lincoln in 2004 in 26 holes.
In the Semifinals, Freeman faced the 2021 Nebraska Amateur Champion, David Easley of Lincoln. Easley took the first lead of the match, but Freeman birdied No. 7 and won No. 8 with a par to take a lead he would never relinquish. A two-putt birdie on the par-5 14th hole push Freeman's lead to 3 up, and after Easley won No. 15 with a par, the match went to No. 17 with Freeman 2 up. Freeman nearly drove the green on the shortened par-4, and Easley needed to make a bunker shot for birdie to stay alive, which lipped out and Freeman won, 3 and 1.
Despite the morning marathon, Nietfeldt looked sharp to start his Semifinal match against the defending champion Johnny Spellerberg of Bennington. He made three birdies to take a 1-up lead at the turn, and then won four of the first five holes on the back nine, to move out to a 4-up lead. Back-to-back birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 gave Nietfeldt the 4-up lead with four holes to play.
Spellerberg fought back though, winning the par-3 15th with a par, despite Nietfeldt saving bogey after losing his tee shot in the native grass and having to return to the tee. Spellerberg then hit two incredible shots back-t0-back. His second shot on the par-5 16th settled about six feet short of the hole, and Nietfeldt conceded the putt after missing his birdie putt.
On the shortened 17th hole, Spellerberg hit a perfect tee shot for the second time of the day. His drive rolled right past the hole and settled on the back of the green. Nietfeldt hit an errant drive and eventually made bogey, conceding a short birdie putt to Spellerberg, and sending the match to No. 18. Nietfeldt righted the ship with a perfect drive and an approach shot onto the green. Two putts later, and Nietfeldt had secured a 1-up win, with the first tied hole of the back nine.
Friday's 36-hole Final begins at 7:30 a.m. The updated bracket is now available on the championship website below, along with additional information.
The Nebraska Golf Association (NebGolf), founded in 1966, is comprised of all members of public and private clubs and/or municipal or regional golf associations which utilize an approved handicap service recognized by the USGA and provided by NebGolf. Our mission is to uphold and promote the game of golf and its values to all golfers in Nebraska. Among the duties of the Association include governance of member clubs and service as their handicapping and course rating authority, conduct of state golf championships, local USGA qualifying & other notable competitions, promotion of junior golf, presentation of worthwhile educational programs and support of allied golf organizations in Nebraska. The Nebraska Golf Association is an Allied Golf Association of the USGA and carries out core services including Handicap Administration and Oversight, Course Rating, Rules of Golf and Rules of Amateur Status, Tournaments and USGA Championship Qualifiers and USGA Initiatives and Community Programs.