By Carter Cheves
Talk to most young accomplished golfers today, and they’ll tell you they had golf clubs in their hands as toddlers, whacking around the yard, sometimes the house, and going to the driving range with a parent at a very early age.
Chapel Hill’s Benjamin Griffin is one of those golfers who started young and who is now well on his way to making a name for himself in the junior ranks — of not only the Carolinas — but the world.
This summer, Griffin captured the Boys 14 title in the U.S. Kids Golf Teen World Championship at Pinehurst No. 8. Griffin carded three straight rounds of par or better (72-70-71) to claim a one-shot victory over Jordan Wrisdale of the United Kingdom.
More than 425 young golfers, ages 13 through 18, from 30 countries, competed in the Teen World Championships, with 135 players competing in Griffin’s age division.
“It was a great experience for me,” Griffin said. “I had played well the year before, finishing ninth at Pinehurst No. 6, so I wanted to do even better this time. I really wasn’t expecting to win. My main goal was to finish in the top four and get a berth in the World Cup.”
Griffin opened with 72-70, earning him a spot the final group of the final round, sharing the lead when it started with Tharusyan Pillay of San Jose, Calif. Pillay shot 76, while Griffin posted a final round 1-under 71. It held up by the slimmest of margins. UK golfer Wrisdale, after posting an opening round 78, followed it with two 68s to finish one shot back of Griffin.
“I knew Jordan might shoot another low round,” Griffin said. “I wasn’t sure where I stood down the stretch. I was just trying to make pars and maybe a birdie or two to hold off anyone coming from behind.”
Without a care in the world, Griffin drained an uphill par putt from 15 feet on the 18th green to capture his most prestigious title to date.
Griffin reached his goal and more. The top four American and top four Internationals earn berths in the Teen World Cup, which is a Ryder Cup-style best-ball match play event played the day after the U.S. Kids championship. Griffin teamed with Zachery Bauchou of Forest, Va., and the pair secured a 2-and-1 victory over the International team of Daniel Jaramillo of Colombia and Wrisdale. The United States won the team competition by a 5-4 count.
The 2010 Teen World Championship was not Griffin’s only international event this season. Back in May he punched his ticket to the Callaway Junior World Championship in San Diego by winning the Tarheel Golf Foundation Robert Trent Jones Junior Championship, which served as the state’s local qualifier. At Carolina Trace in Sanford, Griffin opened with 70 and followed that with a competitive career-round of 66 to earn the 13-14 age group spot by eight shots.
Griffin shot 79-77-73 at Riverwalk Golf Club, finishing 44th. Just two weeks later he would capture his U.S. Kids Teen World title.
“I didn’t play particularly well in California, but it was a lot of fun being in a tournament that big,” Griffin said. “The golf course was completely different than what I was used to.”
Griffin’s Dad, Cowan, a good player with a single-digit handicap, got his son involved in the game. According to the young Griffin, who first had a club in his hand at 11 months old, one of his fondest memories of being on the golf course was the first time he was big and strong (age 11) enough to carry his bag for nine holes, while playing with his dad.
Griffin has had a breakout summer on the Carolinas golf scene as well. At the North Carolina Junior he was the youngest player in the field to advance into the match-play portion of the event. He shot 71 in stroke play qualifying at Forest Oaks in Greensboro, which was played at 7,048 yards. Griffin lost to prep senior Patrick Morris of Hampstead 2-up in the opening round.
Griffin’s highlights include winning the TGF Junior Player’s Middle School Championship at Finley GC with rounds of 67-69. He also captured two Tarheel Youth Golf Association (TYGA) events in the 14-18 overall division, and he finished inside the top five at two Eastern Junior Golf Association (EJGA) events this summer at Tobacco Road and Talamore. In August, at The Club at 12 Oaks, Griffin shot 72-75-75 to finish 11th overall at the Dogwood State Junior.
Griffin is one of four freshmen to earn his way into the field of the invitation-only Joe Cheves Junior Invitational, scheduled for Mimosa Hills CC in Morganton on Sept. 11-12.
Griffin, a freshman at East Chapel Hill High School, stands just 5-foot-3, and tips the scales at 120. Don’t let the size fool you. He creates enough power in his golf swing to hit his driver 270 yards. But where he really excels is with a tremendous short game. His wedge play is stellar and there’s not a putt from any distance that he doesn’t expect to make.
“I love competition,” Griffin said. “It’s fun to be on the golf course to see what you can shoot each day.”