By STEVE WILLIAMS
Ben Pinkleton had hopes of playing collegiate golf after finishing high school at Northeast Guilford. Seven years later, he’s getting that chance.
Pinkleton is a 25-year-old freshman at Guilford College, filled with enthusiasm and confidence in his improving game. He posted some of the Quakers’ best scores in qualifying but narrowly missed the starting five for the season opener Oct. 1-2 in Columbus, Ohio.
Third-year head coach Corey Maggard believes Pinkleton will get his chance sooner than later, perhaps this fall when the Quakers compete in four upcoming tournaments.
“With four years of eligibility, he’s really going to contribute down the road for us,” Maggard said. “I wouldn’t be surprised that in this first semester that he finds a way to get into the line-up.”
Guilford has one of the top Division III programs in the country and entered this fall ranked fifth with four starters returning from a team that placed 11th at last spring’s national championship tournament.
To call Pinkleton a late bloomer would be an understatement. He went to Campbell University after finishing at Northeast in 2005 but knew early on that it wasn’t a good fit for him after experiencing some health issues.
“I went for one month but got a medical withdrawal,” he said.
He returned home, got a job and played a little golf, mostly at his home course at Crooked Tree. He won the club championship there in 2011 and thus qualified for the Triad Golf Today Tournament of Champions which was played in April.
That’s where the road that eventually led to Guilford began. A sensational 30 on the final nine at Forest Oaks Country Club lifted him to the title against a field that included some of the area’s top amateurs.
“I definitely knew I could play with any of those guys after that,” Pinkleton said. “Shooting that 30 on the back nine – that was big time. I had played like that before but doing it in a tournament really helped me as far as confidence goes.”
He followed up with a strong showing at the Carolinas Open at Bryan Park. He was inside the top 20 after shooting 73-70 but faded to a tie for 52nd after closing with a 78. There were more than 40 amateurs in the field – including a lot of Division I college players – and he was one of 22 to make the 36-hole cut.
He had put the word out through a couple of channels that he was ready to give college golf a try, but he got no offers. He had a couple of friends who had good things to say about Guilford so he decided to call Maggard.
“It was in early August,” Maggard said, remembering a message left on his office phone. “I didn’t know the name right off. He hadn’t been in the circles of all the junior golf that I had followed all summer. Then I saw the article on the Tournament of Champions and what he had done in the Carolinas Open.”
Maggard got his first chance to see Pinkleton play in the pre-qualifier for the Wyndham Championship on Aug. 9 and although he didn’t advance to the Monday qualifier with a 77, Maggard had seen enough and invited Pinkleton to join the team, becoming the 11th player on the roster.
He registered for the adult program (age 23-over) and is taking 12 hours of classes and hopes to earn degrees in economics and business administration.
“I’m still in the process of trying to get my time-management skills to where they need to be,” Pinkleton said. “But I’m really enjoying it.”
The competitive fire caught on in golf qualifying. He led the team after the first round with a 72 before a viral infection slowed him in the middle of the seven-round test. He closed with 69-71 at Cardinal Country Club and narrowly missed out.
“That is just making me work harder,” he said.
Pinkleton hadn’t met any of his teammates before the first days of practice. His teammates include one senior, two juniors, five sophomores and two freshmen.
“They were all great,” he said. “They’re good kids.”
“That’s one thing I can do,” he said. “I can call them kids because everyone on the team, with the exception of our one senior, is 18 to 20.”