The cut – that cruel number symbolizing the separation between contenders and also-rans – loomed at 79 for Canyon View golfer Jamis Benson on Day 1 of the 3A State High School Golf Championships. With three holes remaining at Soldier Hollow, Benson needed to average par to make the cut and advance to the second and final day of competition.
He bogeyed No. 16, but birdied No. 17, needing to only to save par on the final hole. But No. 18 got off to an inauspicious start. Benson sliced his ball into the weeds. It sat 190 yards from the hole. His second shot did nothing to further his intentions. He had two chances to reach the pin – or bid farewell to his golf season.
Then a junior, Benson was in his fourth full year of playing golf. He was a quick learner, getting serious with the game in eighth grade and quickly advancing to the Falcons’ varsity. Getting bounced on the first day of the state tournament after finishing second on his team at the Region 12 tournament a week earlier would have been nothing to be embarrassed about. He had one more year remaining to make a strong push at state.
And yet he didn’t get his head down. Despite his apparent predicament – Benson figured if he could get it onto the green, he’d have a chance to sink a long putt – Benson let it rip. Forget the long putt. He only needed a 3-footer, which he sank with ease.
“I hit it perfect with a 6-iron,” he recalled months later, perhaps still a bit surprised at the result. “Before the shot, I was thinking ‘let’s try to get good a swing on the ball and get out of the weeds … get it close to the green so I can have a shot.’ It was a blind shot – I was behind a couple trees – so I couldn’t see the pin. Had to hit it over the trees, so to be in the 10-yard vicinity of the green I would have been happy.”
Canyon View is hoping Benson’s best is yet to come as the Falcons seek to advance to state as a team and send coach Wayne Hartley, who is retiring at the end of this school year, out on a high note. It all starts with the senior Benson, a four-year varsity starter, who enjoyed an offseason full of hard work and success. At the St. George Junior Association of Golf tournament over the summer, Benson earned medalist honors with a strong 38 on the 9-hole “The Point” course at Sunbrook Golf Club.
He hopes to parlay that experience and his time as a Falcon to more of a leadership role on the team.
“I always felt like you don’t always have the (title ‘leader’) to lead,” Benson says. “You lead by example. I think I just do the same things I usually do, just with a little more responsibility. I’ve always been prepared for it, not something difficult to transition to. I think we, as a team, will improve a lot.”
Benson says his Utah Golf Association handicap is 4, which would have landed him around the top 15 competitors at last year’s state tournament. One of his big goals for 2016 is to finish top 10 in the 3A classification and capture Region 12 medalist honors. Beyond that he hopes to play in college, perhaps locally at Southern Utah University, and to qualify for the Utah State Amateur.
What motivates him is a simple love for the game. “I like the fact that it’s just you out there,” he explains. “When you play well, there is no one to point fingers at but yourself. There is a lot of pressure but a lot of rewards and a lot of life skills you can learn from golf. There is a lot of integrity involved because you are own referee. You have to be honest.”
Although a golfer does compete against others in the course of a tournament, he is still more or less competing against himself. That’s how Benson sees it – so why not have a conversation along the way.
“You learn people skills because you have to spend four hours with kids you don’t know,” Benson says. “Some kids are really serious, don’t talk a lot. I am not that way. I like to get to know the kids. When it is really silent it makes it kind of awkward. Plus, it relieves some of the pressure to talk to the kids.”
Perhaps that helped him handle the pressure of the 18th hole at Soldier Hollow last year. • HSSI