A great summer of junior golf earned Ben James the opportunity to spend another few days in the summer sun — even though there was snow on the ground.
James spent several days earlier this month in Melbourne, Australia — where it is currently the summer season. He was playing in another golf event, but the stakes this time were much, much higher than any state golf or American Junior Golf Association tournament he played in. The 16-year-old Milford resident was playing for his country.
Yes, the Junior Presidents Cup was at stake. And the Americans prevailed over the International team 13-11 James helped the cause by going 2-1, helping win both his foursome and four-ball matches on Dec. 8.
“It was pretty incredible. It was really a great honor to wear the red, white and blue, to represent junior golf,” James said. “Our country has the best junior golfers. And we were able to brush ankles with the pros. I stopped to think to myself how crazy this was. Only 24 (juniors) in the whole world get to do this. That’s pretty cool.”
James, a sophomore at Hamden Hall Country Day, earned the 12th and final spot on the Junior Presidents Cup team. As he noted, James got to rub elbows with the game’s greats as captain Tiger Woods was days away from leading the U.S. to a come-from-behind victory over the Internationals in the Presidents Cup on the same course, the Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
After the Juniors won, James hung around to watch the opening day of the Presidents Cup before taking the 14-hour-flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles, then another 51/2 hours home.
“One of my teammates, Canon Claycomb, played this in 2017. What he said was dead on, that ‘You are going to feel it when your name is called (on the first tee) and you have to hit your first shot. It hits you now more than at any other tournament.’”
James teamed with Vishnu Sadagopan to win their four-ball match 3 and 1, then with Alexander Yang to win the foursome match 2 and 1.
“The formats were really cool. I don’t have a lot of experience in alternate shot (foursomes). It wasn’t like a regular stroke-play tournament. I think it would be fun any time you play alternate shot. It’s a true team effort.” James said.
Bo Jin beat James in singles the following day (Dec. 9) 3 and 2.
But even that effort didn’t disappoint the 16-year-old James. He was able to get some advice from team captain Justin Leonard during his match. Yes, the same Justin Leonard who two decades ago defeated Jose Maria Olazabal in his singles match to win the 1999 Ryder Cup for the U.S.
“When I was 4-down, I talked to (Leonard) and I won back-to-back holes,” James said. “He gave me very good advice in my body language, where to miss (your approach shots), where to leave your ball and how to approach holes.”
Before he left for Australia, James was honored for earning a spot on the Rolex All-American second team. He got to shake hands with Jack Nicklaus.
So it was a great ending to a fabulous seven-month stretch of golf for James. He does take a break from competition – he doesn’t tee it up until an AJGA event until February – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t practicing or working out.
“This winter I will be in the gym working out,” James said. “If you work out with a purpose, it’s definitely as good as a practice.”