On the golf scene late, Kohles makes up for lost time

Former Virginia All-American Ben Kohles

Former Virginia All-American Ben Kohles

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Editor's note: Sean Martin caught up with Ben Kohles after he won the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational on July 29 to become the first player to win a Web.com Tour event in his pro debut. Kohles won a second consecutive event at the Cox Classic. He's now second on the Web.com Tour money list with $261,000 in earnings.

Ben Kohles was supposed to be on family vacation this week in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. He’s in Omaha, Neb., instead. The scenery may not be as nice, but he couldn’t ask for a better situation.

Kohles, 22, won last week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational, becoming the first person to win a Web.com Tour event in his pro debut. He has earned $144,000 in one week on the job, and, at No. 13 on the tour’s money list, is in good position to be among the 25 Web.com Tour players to earn PGA Tour playing privileges for next season. Kohles, fully exempt on the Web.com Tour by virtue of his victory, is competing in this week’s Cox Classic.

Kohles’ victory was impressive for its quickness. He has accomplished a lot in a brief career, though. He didn’t start playing golf regularly until he was about 13 years old, and didn’t start competing in tournaments until he was 15. Ben’s father, Kevin, remembers taking his son to Pinehurst for his 14th birthday. Father beat son by a stroke from the white tees on the famed No. 2 course, 98 to 99. “We were both happy we broke 100,” Kevin Kohles said. Three years later, Ben Kohles shot 69 at No. 2 in the final round of the North & South Junior.

That’s a 30-stroke improvement in three years.

Kohles didn’t even try out for his high school’s golf team in his freshman year because he didn’t think he was good enough. Kohles might have been a late bloomer, but his college coach, Virginia’s Bowen Sargent, said it didn’t take him long to recognize that he had a promising player on his hand.

“After his first tournament, I’ll never forget it. I knew he was good, but I didn’t know he was that good,” Sargent said. “I went up to his parents and told them both, you guys have a really special kid here. This kid’s going to make it. He has an intangible. The tougher the situation gets and the more that it means, the more he likes it. There’s very few kids who enjoy that environment, and he always has.”

Kohles won seven times at Virginia, a school record. He also matched the Cavaliers’ mark for career top-10s (23). He was a three-time All-American and two-time ACC player of the year.

The Kohles family lived near Dallas until Ben was 10, when they moved near Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, N.C. Ben Kohles could ride his bike to the club, which featured several talented junior players, including current Georgia player Michael Cromie and former North Carolina All-American Kevin O’Connell. Kohles didn’t devote himself to the game for a few years, but his development – fueled by nature and nurture – was rapid once he did. His competitive spirit and talented Prestwood peers drove him to succeed. His high school, Green Hope, won two state titles in his three seasons.

Kohles’ high school coach, David Allen, remembers telling his players at one practice that they should try once per week to make 100 consecutive 4-footers. It was dark when practice ended that February evening, but Kohles, then a sophomore, ran to an adjacent green that was lit by an oversized clock to immediately attempt the feat.

“Ben’s progress has been a straight line,” Allen said. “Normally you’ll take four steps up and one step back, but I don’t know that he’s had a setback.”

Kohles, who won the prestigious Dogwood Invitational in June, originally planned to turn professional after this year’s U.S. Amateur. He received an invitation to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational on July 16 – less than two weeks before the event – when Peter Uihlein opted to play in a Challenge Tour event instead.

Kevin Kohles asked his son if he was certain that he wanted to turn pro last week, thus passing on one more opportunity to win the Havemeyer Trophy. “He just said, ‘I’m ready to go,’ ” Kevin Kohles said.

He proved last week that he was. And the rest was history.

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