U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Wong Looking to End His Junior Amateur Career on a Winning Note July 19, 2018 | Springfield, N.J. By Stuart Hall

Shuai Ming (Ben) Wong has already reached his goal of playing in the U.S. Junior Amateur five times. Now his goal is to win it. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

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Shuai Ming (Ben) Wong is well aware that his historic run in U.S. Junior Amateur Championships is about to end, and he would prefer to control the conclusion’s narrative.

“I have always had the goal, since I was 13, to win the U.S. Junior Amateur,” said Wong, 18, of Hong Kong, China, who also aimed to play in five of these championships and checked that box this week at Baltusrol Golf Club. “Being the fifth time, [winning] would mean a lot to me, but it’s not going to be easy.”

In the championship’s 71-year history, playing five is a feat only accomplished eight times, including by four-time U.S. Open champion Jack Nicklaus (who never won the Junior). Wong’s performance in the previous four, though, has been mediocre — two missed cuts and two losses in the Round of 32.

In 2015, Wong nearly sabotaged his goal by failing to even qualify for the championship. A year later, the USGA raised the maximum age for the championship from 17 to 18, and gave new life to Wong’s pursuit.

“I was more disappointed in missing out at that qualifier than losing a golf tournament because it meant that much to me,” Wong said. “The tournament is just that special. I just fell in love with the game even more [playing that first one at Martis Camp Club in Truckee, Calif.].”

Given Wong’s attachment to this championship and that it’s his final opportunity to win, motivation may be a bit higher. With a dominating 7-and-6 win over Jacob Bridgeman in Thursday’s Round of 16, Wong advanced to a Friday morning match against Cole Hammer.

While Wong, currently No. 155 in the World Amateur Golf RankingTM, and Hammer, No. 41, have combined to play in nine U.S. Junior Amateurs and never won, they each have won a U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. Wong won with Frankie Capan in 2017 at Pinehurst No. 2; Hammer with Garrett Barber this year at Jupiter Hills Club in Tequesta, Fla.

When asked to choose a favorite U.S. Junior Amateur experience, Wong does not hesitate.

“The first one was the most memorable,” he said. “I didn’t make match play and didn’t play that well, but I had my best friend [Capan] on the bag that week. As a 13-year-old, you’re kind of in awe. You see all of the older guys and you know who they are, but they don’t know who you are. The venue was amazing. It’s just forever going to have a special place in my heart.”

Capan is a little biased not only because he won a USGA title with Wong, but because the two are close friends off the course. Having played in three U.S. Junior Amateurs himself, Capan, 18, of North Oaks, Minn., understands Wong’s passion for this particular championship.

“Ben will always hold the USGA and their events close to his heart because they are the biggest and best,” Capan said. “As his junior career is coming to a close this week, it would mean so much [for him to win]. Not only for Ben, but also his family if he were able to keep his head down, take it one match, one shot at a time, and get the job done. Personally, I think it would be a wonderful story.”

It’s been one that Wong has been writing since his father introduced him to the game at age 3 in Hong Kong. At age 7, the family moved to Beijing, opening more opportunities for Wong in golf.

Prior to Wong’s freshman year of high school, the Wong family moved to The Woodlands, Texas, and his parents traveled back and forth from Beijing for a year and a half to look after their son. After his grandparents came and stayed for a half year, Wong then lived with friends of the family and later shared an apartment with two friends and regular golf companions.

“It has helped me a lot as a golfer and as a person, probably more so as a person,” said Wong of his independence. “School stuff and daily things I have to handle. Wake up, fix breakfast, do laundry, all the things a normal 17- or 18-year-old doesn’t need to take care of. Quickly I learned a lot of things I wouldn’t have learned had I stayed with my parents.

“Time management is probably the biggest thing I have learned, but also prioritizing what’s important and what’s not. I think that really helped my golf game because what I realized that what I really wanted to do is to play golf. And through the constant doings of other things, of having to take care of so many things, I found the joy of playing golf.”

Capan has closely observed the maturation of his friend.

“Ben has always been wise beyond his years, and I believe a lot of that has to do with his travel between the United States and China,” he said. “He has learned to live and travel on his own, which has enabled him to become really independent. The last two years he has not only learned the value of patience in golf, but also presence. He always plays within himself and stays calm in most circumstances.”

Wong’s cool demeanor could be tested in the coming days, especially if he pens his own proper ending.

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA digital channels.

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