NCHSAA Golf Champion Continues To Compete

CHAPEL HILL’S GRIFFIN KEEPS WORKING, LOOKS FOR U.S. KID’S GOLF REPEAT

Special to the NCHSAA by Norma Pittman Stilwell

CHAPEL HILL,— When you’re a 15 year old rising sophomore in high school and the reigning 2011 North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4-A individual golf champion, you have the choice of learning to drive or work on your short game. In the case of Benjamin Griffin of Chapel Hill, you can have both.

Griffin, an excellent student at East Chapel Hill High School , will tell you that his short game is the strongest part of his golf game, but make no mistake: he prefers driving, too…a car.

“I just got my driver's permit a few weeks ago, and I’ve been driving every single day,” the affable Griffin said with enthusiasm. “I really enjoy driving; I drove back from Charlotte after the North Carolina Juniors.”

Probably a typical teenage boy finally enjoying being behind the wheel, out for a summer vacation drive with his dad?

Yes, except this journey came just hours after Ben had been denied a chance to win another junior golf title, the NC Juniors, following a 4 and 3 semi-final loss to the eventual winner, Stanhope Johnson, Jr. But never mind that loss; he would be able to drive to the Chapel Hill Country Club the next day for some practice, work on that all-important short game and then head out for the next summer tournament in Alabama.

The son of Cowan and Erika Griffin and older brother of Stuart, Ben was always interested in basketball, baseball and golf and even felt that he was a “good” basketball player who wanted more minutes on the hardwood. Thinking it might be time for a singular sports direction, his dad suggested a “little golf tournament in Raleigh.”

“I saw this sign at the Club for a U.S. Kids Golf Tournament for his age group (7-8 year olds),” added Cowan Griffin, an accomplished golfer. “He did fine, but he went back to team sports for a few years. “

On most levels, golf is a hugely independent game, one that Ben Griffin appeared ready for as a pre-teen. His home club offered the standard chipping area, no real sprawling practice facility and a little putting green.  So he honed his skills on what was available to him, every day, all day, until he saw improvement.

His successful short game has been referred to as “scrappy,” but his dad offered up a reason for that: with limited facilities, it was a beneficial blessing in disguise that the chipping area was most often accessible to him, so that’s what he did…chipped and pitched. 

“When I was about 12, I really felt I wanted to do an individual sport,” Ben said. “In 2008, my dad and I went down to Foxfire Country Club near Pinehurst for a Father/Son event, and I remember we were trying to find a hotel.  Everywhere we went, there were signs for ‘Welcome U.S. Kids Golf World Championship’ — and no rooms.”

“So the next year, after I entered a U.S. Kids Golf qualifier, I won and was able to play in Pinehurst at the World Championship,” he recalled with a smile. “There were little kids EVERYWHERE!”

Uncommon maturity and strong-minded focus are evident in Ben, even at the age of 15. He thrives on the self-determination of thinking about the next shot and not getting ahead of himself. 

“Golf is a good game for a gentleman and helps improve your manners,” he mused. “You can’t get ahead of yourself, you have to forget that last shot, stay with it and never give up.”

Clearly, Griffin isn’t one to give up. Following a personally unsatisfactory finish in the 2009 U.S. Kids Golf World Championship, Ben had one goal in mind: be part of the winning Teen World Cup team. In this modified Ryder Cup format, if the United States prevails, winning team members are awarded a handsome red and white golf bag.

“Since I didn’t win in 2009, I was feeling the pressure and wanted to come back last year (2010),” he laughed. “I wanted to make sure I won and could be a part of the Teen World Cup. I wanted that bag!” 

Last year, he was the 14 year old boys’ champion and earned his spot on the winning U.S. Teen World Cup team.

That entire experience prompted the young golfer to publicly classify his U.S. Kids Golf victory as his “greatest athletic moment.” The reason was quite simple: his dad could be his caddy.

“I had never won a ‘World Championship’ and just to be in that environment with my father…” Ben added quietly, “I just cherished it. That was just great.”

His summer tournament schedule is full up until the 2011 U.S. Kids Teen World Championship in July, but he looks forward to seeing how his game stacks up against the world players.

Meanwhile, he caught some of the US Open and watched as a young man only seven years his senior won in an emphatic manner. Might he be in Rory McIlroy’s spot one day?

“I do want that challenge, but I don’t want to get too ahead of myself,” Griffin answered. “That tournament is every golfer’s dream.”

“If I keep my game up, and I’m in a spot where I have a chance, then I’d love to win the US Open.”

First there are three more years of high school and then college. Under NCAA rules, contact is limited for high school underclassmen, but the Griffins are aware that Division I coaches sneak interested glances in Ben’s direction when he’s playing with older competitors who are being “watched” and recruited.

Cowan Griffin realizes that his son, who has won more than 20 major junior events, has the focus and passion for golf at any level of competition. When the dad played years ago in Hickory,he had no exposure to “real” junior tournaments or the opportunity to play against the “best.”

“Parents try to give their kids more than what they were given when they were growing up,” the elder Griffin declared. “We want our sons to go after their dream, do things we weren’t able to do.”

“During the 4-A championship, Ben said to me, ‘I want to be in the playoffs, I want to feel the butterflies, and just see how I handle myself.’ His mother and I are proud as proud can be.”

Erika and Cowan are gratified they can share in watching their son’s successes on the golf course. There is still travel to distant tournaments, the constant juggling of parents’ work schedules and driving him to practice at the local course.

“I can drive myself now!” Ben reminded them.

Driving or short game…with single-mindedness, determination and focus…that’s Ben Griffin’s way of doing things.

The U.S. Kids Golf Foundation, a Georgia non-profit recognized as a 501(c)(3) charity, was created in 2001 and provides services that include competition and instruction. The Foundation organizes more than 500 golf tournaments for kids each year, including Local Tours in more than 40 cities, ten Qualifiers across the nation, six Regional Championships, a European Championship and the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship and Teen World Championship, which are held each year in Pinehurst.