Harlem High School’s Ben Gardner has a picture of himself hitting a golf ball when he was 4 years old, but it took some time before he really devoted himself to the sport.
“I really got serious about it maybe a year ago,” said Gardner. “I started practicing more, practicing with a purpose.”
That dedication paid off for the senior on March 29 when he signed to play for Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga.
Harlem head golf coach Kim Chambers has noticed the shift in his game.
“I remember the last three years where he was just an average golfer and had a lot of potential, to now he’s consistently putting out those (even-par) scores,” said Chambers. “Last year at the end of the year he came on, and of course he lost the playoff to the kid from Thomson for the individual medalist. Since that time he’s had focus.”
Had Gardner won the playoff, he would have advanced to the state tournament as the low medalist on a non-competing team, but he hopes to go with his teammates this year.
“We’ve got some young kids, and we’ve got a couple of wild cards, and so I’m hoping we can at least make it to state,” said Gardner, who led the Bulldogs to a 5-2 mark heading into spring break.
In addition to being the low scorer on the team, he has once again assumed a leadership role.
”Last year they used to call me ‘coach’ because I actually scheduled some practices, and I teach them a little bit, stuff like that,” he said.
Gardner knows his role will shift when he gets to Truett-McConnell and has to compete for a roster spot.
“I expect that I’ll not only help the team, but I’ll learn from them.” he said.
Gardner played tennis for a while, but he had to make a decision between it and golf.
“I think it’s kind of addicting,” he said of golf. “You hit a great shot, and you want to keep doing that. You want to get better so that you can hit another great shot.”
Gardner is thinking about a career as a mechanical engineer, so this year he took on a different type of senior project than he had originally envisioned.
“I learned to weld,” Gardner said. “I wanted to do a golf clinic for younger kids, but I’ve been in golf for a while, and I thought it’d be interesting to try something different.”
Harlem last won a region title in golf in 1985, and Chambers is hoping Gardner can lead the school to one this year, for the team and for himself.
“It’s kind of neat to watch somebody who puts in the work that gets the reward,” said Chambers. “He kept working and kept working and finally got to the place where he’s successful. In our region he’s one of the hottest golfers.”