WATERTOWN — A hot start was all Ben James needed to continue his recent streak on the links.
Fresh off winning the Killington Junior Golf Championship last week, James took down the 78th annual Connecticut Junior Amateur Championship Thursday at Watertown Golf Club. James, a Milford native, beat New Canaan’s Gunnar Granito 7&6 in the 18-hole final.
James survived one of the toughest fields in the competition’s history according to Director Mike Moraghan during the trophy presentation. The rising sophomore at Hamden Hall has competed in the tournament for four straight years.
“This is one of the biggest tournaments to win in my home state,” said James. “I like match play a lot, I don’t get too much experience with that. The people that have won this; to (be one of those) is big for me.”
James took a commanding lead almost instantly after both birdied the first hole. Several close chips led to wins on three straight holes, and by the time they took the turn James had a five-hole lead. The match finished on No. 13.
“My accuracy off the tee was dynamite,” James said. “I was never really in trouble, I had only one time to punch out in five matches. I was very pleased.”
Granito hadn’t trailed much either prior to Thursday.
“I had only been down one at all (the whole tournament),” Grantio said. “To go down that many early; I had been going up early on everyone. That had a huge impact; going into the match I hoped to get up early or keep it pretty even. It was hard to come back.”
The quarterfinals and semifinals both took place Wednesday, with each surviving a tough test during the two-round grind to reach the final. James edged Shelton’s Kyle St. Pierre 2&1 in the semifinals in what proved to be the toughest match of the tournament. Avon’s Michael Hanratty was the other semifinalist.
“Coming into the week I was just praying to make the cut,” Granito said. “I haven’t made the cut any of the years I tried to qualify. To get to the final was not what I was expecting, I was just pretty excited to be here.”
Match play was a unique opportunity for those in the tournament with most used to competing in stroke play. That brought out the best in Granito, an All-State hockey player while at New Canaan.
“The competitiveness is super different,” James said. “It’s really different than stroke play and you have to manager yourself different. I have a thing: just fairways and greens. If you can see the ball you’re doing alright.”
Granito will attend Berkshire School in the fall, and will hone both his stick and club skills before deciding where and what to play at the next level. Granito took down the FCIAC individual championship in May representing the Rams.
“It’s a great opportunity to have another year to showcase my skills for both sports,” Granito said. “This is huge for golf. I didn’t have many tournaments planned for the summer; to do this in my first one is pretty nice. It gets my name out there more than it was.”
James has a busy summer schedule with the New England Junior Amateur Invitational, the Junior PGA Championship and the Junior Players at TPC Sawgrass all on the slate.
“I feel pretty good,” James said. “Everything’s been solid, I’ve been very happy.”