HARTFORD, Conn – Outside of Chez Reavie rallying to win the Travelers Championship for his second PGA Tour victory in June, Ben James was the story of the Connecticut golf scene this summer.
The 16-year-old from Milford won state, New England and national titles and was honored for his stellar play by being named to the 12-person United States team that will compete against the International side in the second Junior Presidents Cup hosted by the American Junior Golf Association and PGA Tour on Dec. 8-9 at famed Royal Melbourne Golf Club, kicking off Presidents Cup week in Australia.
The junior event will include players from 10 states, Australia, China, Chinese Taipei, India, Korea and South Africa, which has the most representation on the International team with five players, while Australians Karl Vilips and Joshua Greer will have the chance to compete on home soil. North Carolina and Texas will be represented by two players each on the U.S. team, which includes several players who competed in the Boys PGA Junior Championship at Keney Park Golf Course in Hartford in July.
James was among those who played in the PGA of America national championship and is the only member of the 2022 high school graduating class on the U.S. team. He finished second by a shot in the AJGA Wyndham Invitational in Charlotte, N.C., won the AJGA Killington Junior Golf Championship in Vermont, rolled to four easy wins in five matches in capturing the Connecticut State Golf Association Amateur Championship, finished third and low amateur in the Connecticut Open, tied for ninth as the best state finisher in the PGA Boys Junior Championship and shot 6-under-par 134 for 36 holes to win his second consecutive Northern Junior Championship at New Haven Country Club by five strokes.
James then shot 7-under 203 for 54 holes to win his second consecutive title in the 50th New England Junior Championship at Mill River CC in Stratford, leading Connecticut to its second straight team title with a 15-under 1,035 total that easily outdistanced runner-up Massachusetts by 17 strokes for the second year in a row. James won the New England individual title by a stroke over teammate Chris Fosdick of Middlefield and Massachusetts phenom James Imai, the 2017 winner whose closing 66 nearly caught the champ. Other Connecticut players in the Top 10 were Jackson Fretty of Greenwich (209, fifth), Alexander Gu of Darien (211, tie for sixth) and Matthew Doyle of Madison (211, tie for sixth). Fosdick finished second or tied for second in his three years on the team, which also included Alex Aurora of Hamden (224, tie for 22nd) and Gunnar Granito of New Canaan (234, tie for 35th).
James, who plays out of Great River GC in Milford, clinched his spot on the Junior Presidents Cup team when he tied for 19th in the AJGA’s Junior Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Fla., home of the PGA Tour’s Players Championship. The Junior Players Championship was by invitation only, and Smith, who entered the season finale 11th in the points standings, was the only player from Connecticut in the 78-man field.
“Making the team would be amazing, a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” James said after his Top-10 finish in the Boys PGA Junior Championship. “I’m really looking forward (to the Junior Players Championship). It’s a reward in itself just to be there.”
CSGA executive director Mike Moraghan said James deserves all the rewards he can get.
“I think Ben James could be the best junior golfer in Connecticut history, and I don’t know if any junior has had a better summer than Ben did,” said Moraghan, the University of Virginia men’s golf team coach from 1989 to 2004. “It’s been fun to watch Ben grow and develop. I remember looking over at our table of boys at the New England dinner (in 2016), and Ben was half the size of some of our guys. He looked like a little kid next to boys like A.J. Ouimet and Jason Liu. But he really fit right in and had everyone’s respect.
“It was obvious even then that Ben was mature beyond his years and had all the qualities you want to see in a champion golfer. He is patient, focused, thoughtful in his decision-making and never seems to be overwhelmed by the moment. And he loves to play and compete. Combine his mental strengths with physical talent and you have a very special player.”
After the PGA Boys Junior Championship in June, Fosdick said, “Ben’s game this summer has been electric. He has made a name for himself as the No. 1 junior in Connecticut. His game is so consistent, he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He is arguably one of the hottest junior players in the country right now.”
James, whose father Don has been his coach since Day One, is now 6 feet tall and a sophomore at Hamden Hall Country Day School. But he has already verbally committed to Virginia thanks in part to help from Moraghan after he originally committed to the University of Connecticut when he was 11, which is two years younger than when Tiger Woods committed to Stanford.
At 13, James qualified for the Connecticut Open and was the state’s best player in the New England Junior Invitational when he tied for ninth. Last year, James was medalist in the CSGA Junior Championship at Watertown GC with 67, won the Computer Merchant Cup at Wintonbury Hills CC in Bloomfield with 68-65, won the Northern Junior at Great River with 68, won the New England Junior Longmeadow (Mass.) CC with 68-70, was runner-up in the AJGA Killington Invitational with 66-72-68 and reached the Round of 32 in the U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol GC in Springfield, N.J.
The U.S. team qualification for the Junior Presidents Cup team was determined by the Rolex AJGA Rankings, while International team selection was based on the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR). The 24 players will compete in six four-ball matches followed by six foursomes matches on Dec. 8. The competition will conclude with 12 singles matches on Dec. 9.
Justin Leonard, an AJGA alum who won 12 PGA Tour titles and made his pro debut at TPC River Highlands on a sponsors’ exemption, will captain the U.S. team, and nine-time PGA Tour winner and five-time Presidents Cup participant Stuart Appleby of Australia will lead the International side.
Maxwell Moldovan of Uniontown, Ohio, headlines the U.S. team as the No. 1-ranked player in the Rolex AJGA Rankings after a tie for fourth in the Junior Players Championship. Moldovan captured the match-play Polo Junior Golf Classic in late June and added runner-up finishes in the Junior Invitational and the Memorial Junior hosted by Sung Hyun Park to secure the Ohio State commit’s trip to Royal Melbourne.
Canon Claycomb of Bowling Green, Ky., who finished second in the PGA Junior Championship, is No. 3 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings and qualified as the No. 2 player in the Junior Presidents Cup standings. A two-time first-team Rolex Junior All-American and University of Alabama commit, Claycomb is the only member of the 2017 U.S. Junior Presidents Cup Team to qualify again. He had a 2-1 record two years ago as the U.S. notched a 14-10 victory at Plainfield Country Club in Edison, N.J.
Other players on the U.S. team are Jack Heath of Charlotte, N.C., who won the Boys PGA Junior Championship thanks to a closing, 8-under-par 62; Brett Roberts of Coral Springs, Fla., who was fourth at Keney Park; 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion and Stanford commit Michael Thorbjornsen of Wellesley, Mass., who was the second youngest player in U.S. Open history to make the cut; Preston Summerhays of Scottsdale, Ariz.; Ian Siebers of Bellevue, Wash.; Jackson Van Paris, Pinehurst, N.C.; Alexander Yang, Carlsbad, Calif.; Vishnu Sadagopan, Pearland, Texas; Ian Siebers, Bellevue, Wash.; and Stephen Campbell Jr., Richmond, Texas.
The AJGA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the overall growth and development of young men and women who aspire to earn college golf scholarships through competitive junior golf. The AJGA provides valuable exposure for college golf scholarships and has an annual junior membership (boys and girls, ages 12-19) of more than 7,300 members from 50 states and 60 foreign countries. Through initiatives such as the Achieving Competitive Excellence (ACE) Grant, a financial assistance program, and Leadership Links, a service-oriented platform that teaches juniors charitable-giving skills, the AJGA fosters the growth of golf’s next generation.
TaylorMade and Adidas are the AJGA’s national sponsors, supporting the AJGA for more than 25 years. TaylorMade has served as the official ball of the AJGA since 2016. Adidas has been the official apparel and footwear of the AJGA since 2017. Rolex, in its fourth decade of AJGA sponsorship, became the inaugural AJGA premier partner in 2004. AJGA alumni have risen to the top of amateur, collegiate and professional golf and won more than 900 victories on the PGA and LPGA Tours. They include Koepka, Johnson, Thomas, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Paula Creamer, Ariya Jutanugarn, Cristie Kerr, Stacy Lewis, Brittany Lincicome, Anna Nordqvist, Inbee Park and Lexi Thompson.
Woods and Ernie Els will captain the U.S. and International teams in the Presidents Cup on Dec. 12-15 at Royal Melbourne.