Things didn’t go as planned for Luke Muller at this week’s 104th Kentucky Open at Persimmon Ridge Golf Course in Louisville. The rising Northern Kentucky University junior finished tied for 24th among amateurs with a three-day score of 7-over-par 223. That put the former Highlands High School two-sport standout well back of winner Justin Tereshko (15-under 200). Muller’s NKU teammate Zack Beard tied for 16th at 220, 20 shots back of Tereshko.
No great shame there. Tereshko is the hottest amateur golfer in Kentucky. In a 44-day span, the former Transylvania two-time All-American and current Eastern Kentucky University golf coach has won the Kentucky Open, the Kentucky State Amateur and qualified for his fourth U.S. Amateur Championship. He’s just the fourth golfer to win both the Kentucky Open and the Kentucky State Amateur in the same year.
Muller was playing against some tough competition at the tail end of some changes he’s made to various aspects of his game.
“I’ve been working hard on it,” Muller said. “I’m tweaking some things in my set-up and my putting, and I’m getting more comfortable with it.”
Muller has lined up a lifetime of victories on the golf course, on the basketball court and in life. He too was recently hot on the links, winning the Highland Country Club championship on his home course in Fort Thomas for the second year in a row with a score of 61 two weeks ago. He was fifth at the Eagle Creek Invitational at the beginning of the month.
Muller earned the fourth seed at the 114th Tony Blom Greater Cincinnati Metropolitan Amateur after tying for fourth during qualifying, tops among all Northern Kentucky-area players. He tied for 21st at the Horizon League Championship this past season at NKU. He shot a low round of 2-under-par 69 at Marshall in the fall.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot over last year,” Muller said. “Every part of my game is a little bit better.”
When it comes to sporting competition, Muller has been a tall order. The 6-foot-6 athlete was a state champion in basketball as a starting forward and second-leading scorer his senior year at Highlands. A 3-point shooting specialist, Muller was named to the Sweet 16 all-tournament team after the Bluebirds captured the crown at Rupp Arena.
Muller was a regional champion in golf at Highlands. He was a three-time all-conference pick and second-team all-state selection. He won the Kentucky Boys Junior Amateur championship in 2021.
Muller comes from a long line of athletes. His father, John Muller, not only has experience on the Fort Thomas city council, but he was a basketball player at Danville Area Community College well ahead of his public-serving life. Luke’s aunt also played college basketball. His mother played college volleyball. His sister swam at the University of Cincinnati. One grandfather played college basketball and another grandfather played college football.
In 2007 as a preschooler, sports-loving Luke Muller did not know if he would join his relatives on the athletics stage. During summer, he got sick with what he thought was an allergic reaction or a chest cold. But that night, he had trouble breathing and was taken to a doctor where tests revealed a tumor was pressing against his trachea.
He was later diagnosed with lymphoblastic lymphoma, a fast-growing, rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and was hospitalized for a month. He underwent a two-year chemotherapy regimen and three years of regular body scans and blood work at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Eventually, he emerged with his first big win: He beat cancer.
Once a year, Muller must return to the Cincinnati Children’s survivor clinic for a thorough check-up to make sure cancer is in remission.
“I went back a few months ago and checked out OK,” Muller said. “It’s more of a personal check-up now. The doctors just want to know how I’ve been feeling, what’s happening in my life and have there been any changes to my family’s medical history.”
Every five years, Muller undergoes a heart scan, and doctors do some blood work to make sure his body is normal. He’s usually in and out of the hospital in 30 minutes, each time more thankful he’s another year past the biggest fight of his life.
To celebrate that life-saving effort and to help pay medical bills and have some fun after the health scare, the Luke Muller Annual Fundraising Golf Tournament was created. After two years directly benefitting the Muller family, the outing began including additional beneficiaries. It eventually became known as the Luke Muller Golf Outing, benefitting rotating agencies with the mission to battle childhood cancers.
“I’m feeling good. It’s fine,” Muller said. “I’m definitely happy to be golfing. I hope to play well this year at NKU.”
Muller plays golf with an understated competitive fire. He likes to win as much as the next guy. But he knows as much as anybody that failing in sports is part of the game, and lessons can be learned on the losing end. While all losses and disappointing finishes hurt, they are easier to handle when a much more formidable opponent has been vanquished.
Muller is a cancer survivor, already a winner in life and a gift to his family and friends. Everything else is a bonus.
Elsewhere around the links:
DUOS TOP 10 AT KGA SENIOR EVENT: James Sweeney and Rob Petrey teamed up to finish third at the Kentucky Golf Association Senior Team Championship at Oldham County Country Club in La Grange. Sweeney, from Florence, and Petrey, from Crescent Springs, combined for nine birdies and shot 6-under-par 136, eight shots behind winners Rodney Chancey and Davis Boland (133). Union duo Lance Lucas and Cy Mandle tied for 10th at 2-over 144.
PETREY FIFTH AT SENIOR MET: Rob Petrey tied for fifth at the Greater Cincinnati Golf Association’s 75th Metropolitan Senior Men’s Championship at Hamilton Elks Golf Club. Petrey, representing Traditions Golf Club, fired a two-day score of 146, five shots behind winner Jim Muething (141) of Maketewah Country Club. Ken Kinman of Traditions finished 10th with a score of 148. Lance Lucas, representing Triple Crown Country Club, was 11th at 149. Tradition’s James Sweeney (151) tied for 13th.
BUTLER JUST SHY OF QUALIFYING: Former St. Henry High School golfer Mason Butler missed qualifying by six shots for the 123rd U.S. Amateur Championship August 14-20 at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado. Butler, now golfing at Thomas More University, tied for 20th overall with a score of 1-over-par 145 on Big Blue at University Club in Lexington. The ex-Crusader is a former two-time state qualifier and All “A” Classic state tournament individual runner-up. He had a pair of top-six finishes last season for Thomas More. Former Saints golfer Landon Finn tied for 40th at the event but failed to qualify. Ryle High School golfing brothers Paxton McKelvey (47th) and Palmer McKelvey (tied for 50th) also made the top 50 while failing to qualify.
GABBARD’S REPEAT BID ENDS: At Monday’s U.S. Amateur qualifier at TPC River’s Bend, former Highlands golfer and current Xavier University player Justin Gabbard did not make it out of the first round in an attempt to qualify for the national event a second straight year. Gabbard shot 79 the first day.
RYLE’S OKUDA NINTH AT JUNIOR MET: Ryle rising sophomore Anika Okuda finished ninth at the Greater Cincinnati Golf Association’s 61st Girls Junior Metropolitan. She carded a two-day score of 166 at Miami View Golf Club, 12 shots behind winner Rowan Pies from East Central, Indiana. Okuda finished sixth at the KHSAA Region 7 tournament as a freshman.
BROSSART’S LAKER A RUNNER-UP: Bishop Brossart High School rising junior Emma Laker was second at the GCGA 1905 Junior Tour’s Glenview Junior Invitational at Glenview Golf Club with a two-round score of 170, just two shots behind the winner. She was fifth at the AJ Classic later in the week. Laker, fifth individually at the KHSAA Region 8 Tournament as a sophomore, is 13th in the 1905 Junior Tour 18-under player of the year points standings with 390.
ANTHONY SISTERS HAVE 15 WINS: Sisters Reese and Nora Anthony of Hebron have won a combined 15 tournaments on the GCGA 1905 Junior Tour, which is a record for a Kentucky sister duo 10 years old and younger. Reese, age 10, has eight wins in 12 events in the girls 10-under division with more tournaments to play. Nora, age eight, has seven wins in nine events in 9-under. The sisters top their respective age group’s player of the year points standings. Reese has accrued 1,550 points, 310 ahead of second-place Savanna Blackmore. Nora has 1,240 points. She is ahead of second-place Ava Zamora by 360.