World No.5 Amateur Hit With Slow-Play Penalty To Agonisingly Miss Out On NCAA Championship Crown

Ben James ended the 2024 NCAA men's individual championship tournament in a six-way tie for second following a costly error his opening round...

Ben James hits driver at the 2024 NCAA men's individual championship
(Image credit: Getty Images)

World No.5 amateur Ben James had a birdie chance on the very last hole of his NCAA men's individual division one championship to force a playoff against Georgia Tech's Hiroshi Tai and potentially earn a spot at The Masters. 

But he missed the putt to come up one stroke shy. "Terrible putt," admitted the University of Virginia sophomore when speaking to Golf Digest afterwards.

James ended in a six-way tie for second alongside Jackson Koivun - the Auburn freshman who watched his final approach shot rejected by the flag while hunting a potentially crucial birdie on the last.

Yet, James' wayward putt was unlikely to be the shot that he rued the most once the dust settled. In his first round of the week on Friday, James and another of his playing partners were handed a one-stroke infringement for slow play, leading to an opening 73.

On the 14th hole at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa’s North Course in Carlsbad, California on Friday, James and Texas Tech's Baard Skogen were officially warned about slow play following a catalogue of errors on the previous par 4. James had hit his drive out of bounds - ending up with a double bogey - while Skogen also suffered a double and the University of Oklahoma's Ben Lorenz carded a five.

Ben James low-fives a teammate during the 2023 Walker Cup at St Andrews

Ben James low-fives a teammate during day two of the 2023 Walker Cup at St Andrews

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Having failed to quicken up their pace before close of play, James and Skoken had a shot tacked onto their respective scores on the par-4 17th. Speaking to Golf Digest on Monday evening, James said: "A lot of unfortunate events... We weren’t trying to slow up play. We were just trying to play our best golf.”

The former Walker Cup star followed up his 73 with a 71 and a 69 over the course of the weekend to give himself an excellent chance of winning come Monday night. Yet, a frustrating 73 was not enough, and James was left questioning what might have been.

He said: “It’s a crazy game. One shot. It’s the rules, but it sucks. It’s stings. There’s such a fine line in golf.”

James was, however, relatively content with his week's work in the end after revealing he spoke to NCAA tournament officials for half an hour in the wake of Friday's incident in order to clear the air.

The 2023 Phil Mickelson Award (the nation's top freshman) said: “I knew the result wasn't going to change, but I wanted to get everything out. And I think that was important. It made me feel better giving my two cents.

“I played great. I had so much fun today. It was so cool having all the people out there, and it felt like a tour event. I was smiling a lot and trying to enjoy in the best I can.”

Jonny Leighfield
Staff Writer

Jonny Leighfield is our Staff News Writer who joined Golf Monthly just in time for the 2023 Solheim Cup and Ryder Cup. He graduated from the University of Brighton with a degree in Sport Journalism in 2017 and spent almost five years as the sole sports reporter at his local newspaper. An improving golfer who still classes himself as ‘one of the worst players on the Golf Monthly team’, Jonny enjoys playing as much as he can and is hoping to reach his Handicap goal of 18 at some stage. He attended both the 150th and 151st Opens and is keen to make it an annual pilgrimage.