Ben Reeves is the epitome of a late bloomer.
Reeves, a Knoxville, Tenn., native, is headed to Tennessee-Martin in the fall, but managed to cap his junior golf campaign with – in bowling terms – a turkey.
To begin his three-tournament winning streak, Reeves prevailed in a sudden death playoff at the AJGA Music City Junior, played June 19-21 in nearby Nashville. He fired a 4-under 212 through three rounds, highlighted by a final round 5-under 67. Still, the phenomenal final round did not clinch the victory. Instead, Reeves found himself in a sudden-death playoff for the title. After watching his opponent sink his par putt on the first extra hole, Reeves calmly stepped up and sunk his birdie putt to win his first AJGA championship.
He traveled to Hilton Head, S.C., the next week to compete in the AJGA’s Hank Haney IJGA Junior Open, played June 26-28. The final day of that tournament played out a little differently for Reeves. Instead of another final-round charge, in Hilton Head he had to cope with the added stress of playing in the final group. He posted rounds of 75-72-73 to finish at 4-over 220 and secure his second victory in as many tournaments by one stroke.
“I knew I could compete,” Reeves said. “But winning is something that you don’t necessarily expect.”
In his last, and possibly most significant tournament as a junior golfer, Reeves shot a 7-under 209 (69-66-74) to win the Tennessee Junior Amateur. Though the AJGA victory means a great deal to Reeves, he says the Tennessee State Junior is the win he will cherish the most.
Reeves feels that he played well in the last three tournaments because there was no pressure to perform well in front of college coaches. That wasn’t the case in years past.
“Honestly, I think that’s one of the reasons I was able to do so well this past summer,” explained Reeves. “Just having confidence in knowing where I’m going, knowing everything is already lined up, and just being able to zone all of that out and focus on my game.”
These wins will certainly take some pressure away from his transition to college golf, though athletics may not be Reeves’ only obstacle. His transition academically could be much tougher, as he intends to pursue a pre-med path. UT-Martin has a small student body – fewer than 8,000 undergrads attend the school. The small size means the academics are taken more seriously, which played a large part in Reeves’ choice. Though “it’s always a dream to go to a really big school,” Reeves said, UT-Martin was a better choice for him because his life won’t just be about golf.
With just a few weeks left until he arrives on campus, Reeves’ goal remains just to qualify for the traveling team. It’s that type of modesty that defines Reeves’ personality, but he holds nothing back when asked about his short game.
“My short game is definitely my strong suit,” he said. “It has given me the success that I’ve had.”
As a young junior player, Ben was much smaller than his competitors and he had to make up for that lack of power with a deft touch around the greens. When he finally caught up to his opponents distance-wise, his short game had only kept improving and he had become a force with which to be reckoned.
“He has really focused this past year on strength and conditioning and the mental side of the game,” added Ben’s father, Todd. “It has been nice to see his all his hard work get rewarded.”
The commitment that led to those three consecutive victories didn’t not just benefit Ben. The newfound success bodes well for teammates waiting for him at UT-Martin. It seems Reeves shed his status as a late bloomer at just the right time.
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PROTECT THIS HOUSE: Keegan Boone will look to defend his home course this week when he plays in the Under Armour/Steve Marino Championship at Bethesda (Md.) Country Club. Boone, who has signed with Loyola-Maryland, is part of a field that includes Eric Bae, Jake Leavitt, Connor Flach and East Carolina commit Clay Brown, among others.
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WINNERS: James Park won his first AJGA event, shooting at 6-over 222 to take the Lessing’s AJGA Classic at Trump National in Colts Neck, N.J. . . . Connor Smith also notched his first AJGA victory last week, winning the E-Z-GO Vaughn Taylor Championship at Jones Creek in Augusta, Ga. Smith finished at 8-under 208. He was seven shots ahead of runner-up David Hemann and 13 ahead of Andy Zhang, who finished T-14. . . . After entering the final round seven strokes off the lead, Preston Fleenor shot a 5-under 65 to claim the Lockton Kansas City Junior in Mission Hills, Kan. . . . Eric Ricard finished at 7-under 209 to take the David Toms Foundation Shreveport Junior at Southern Trace CC. . . . Harold Calubid notched a five-shot victory, finishing at 6-under 210 to win the AJGA Junior Challenge at Oak Valley CC in Beaumont, Calif.
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LOOKING AHEAD: The Junior PGA Championship has the biggest draw this week, with notables Beau Hossler, Jim Liu, Andy Shim, Branson Davis, Scottie Scheffler, Gavin Hall, Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, Samantha Wagner, Alison Lee and Nicole Morales, among others in the field July 31-Aug. 3 at Sycamore Hills GC in Fort Wayne, Ind. . . . The AJGA has five other events aside from the Steve Marino Championship that will conclude Thursday, including the Bass Pro Shops/Payne Stewart Junior at Rivercut GC in Springfield, Mo.