Alabama teen sets sights on Drive, Chip and Putt finals

By Alvin Benn
Published on

SELMA, Ala. -- "Phenom" is a good word to describe Jones Free, and those who saw the new teenager drill a tee shot nearly 300 yards believe he's destined for big things in the coming years.

At the moment, he's focusing his attention on the Drive, Chip & Putt championship on April 3, a week before the Masters Tournament at Augusta National in Georgia.

Free, who turned 13 on Feb. 8, took top honors in regional competition enabling, him to join an elite field of 80 young golfers from across the country.

His home course is the Selma Country Club where he's impressed Tommy Burns, the club pro who predicts a bright future for him.

"I'd rate Jones among the best I've ever seen at his age," Burns said. "What I like best about him is his dedication to the sport he loves. That includes hours of practice. He never seems to tire of it."

Burns is familiar with "phenom" -- an abbreviation of "phenomenal" -- often applied to young baseball superstars. At times he's also used a popular word linked to young musicians.

"Jones has great potential and I think 'protege' could certainly be a good word to describe him," said Burns. "At his age he's as good as it comes. His record speaks for itself."

Just a seventh-grader at Morgan Academy, Free is already listed as the top golfer on the Morgan Academy team. That means he's rated above juniors and seniors at Morgan Academy.

"The way he's playing, he will be our leader at this point," Morgan Academy golf coach Ira Wagoner said. "My advice to him is to be just as good as he can be every day. There are a lot of good things in his future."

Long practice sessions have been rough on Free's hands at times and blisters occasionally from during hours of repetition on the golf course. It hasn't deterred him, though. He just keeps driving, chipping and putting.

William Free, a 3-handcap golfer who is among the best at the country club, is his son's biggest fan. They play as often as possible and, during one amazing round, Jones beat his dad. It happened a day before he turned 6.

"I had a 41 and dad had a 42," said Jones Free.

Understandably, it wasn't a true head-to-head match, given his father's age, height, weight and power off the tee. Instead, the tee boxes were adjusted to give Jones Free a chance to beat his dad or stay close.

"I knew he'd beat me one day, but not while he was just 5 years old," said William Free who didn't have to be reminded that his son had just spent 364 days practicing the year before he turned 6.

In addition to that accomplishment, Jones also scored an ace five years ago at the age of 8 when he sank a 142-yard tee shot on the second hole of the Selma Country Club.

Friends with him became excited witnesses and when he came back down to earth, he made sure his first call was to his dad to share the good news.

With all the trophies and other awards he's received, Jones Free may soon have to find more space in his bedroom where many are on display.

He recently received the Paul Grist Trophy following completion of the Bud Burns Dixie Junior Championship at the Selma Country Club.

That award is presented to the golfer boasting more than the lowest score. Hard work and character are among the traits taken into consideration. In Jones Free's case, it was his second consecutive victory at the Dixie Junior event.

Burns, whose late great father's name graces the Grist Trophy that was awarded to Jones Free, has been watching him improve his game since he was a little boy enjoying the sunshine the country club.

Burns also is happy to see that Jones Free isn't focusing his life on golf and at the expense of his studies. Jones Free's parents make sure their son is well-grounded and he often does his homework at the Selma Country Club pro shop.

Jones Free, who is in the 12-13 grouping for the upcoming event at Augusta, began playing with his first club before his third birthday.

Not much more than a toddler at the time, he seemed to enjoy the feel, even if he might not have been strong enough to take a stance with it.

His equipment preference today is Ping i20 clubs and, at 5-feet-2 inches and 110 pounds, Jones Free is getting bigger and stronger with each passing year.

His Ping equipment has recently had to make way in Jones Free's bag for an addition -- a new putter given to him on his 13th birthday.

Now, about that amazing tee shot that soared 280 yards. Jones Free says it was aided a bit by the wind, not to mention a slightly downhill fairway that was conducive to the drive.

"He has great potential to play college golf and become a pro one day," Burns said. "When you've done what he's done at such a young age, 'phenom' is a good word to describe him. I'd rank him among the top 25 in the country in his age group."

This article was written by Alvin Benn from The Montgomery Advertiser and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.