CSGA (April 19, 2020) The 2020 season, when it begins, may answer an historic question: Is Milford’s Ben James the best state junior player ever? After his breakthrough season last year, that’s certainly a possibility. But as CSGA Executive Director Mike Moraghan explains, the issue is far from settled.
It used to be that if you were “the goat” you were the player who blew it. You made an error that cost your team the game. You did something dumb at a critical moment, like failing to step out of bounds to stop the clock. Make enough bad plays at the wrong time and you weren’t just a goat, you were a bum.
Times change and descriptors change. Not that long ago a nasty, filthy pitcher was the guy who never showered. Now it’s high praise for an ace that no one can hit, and everybody wants to hug the guy and get his autograph.
Back in the 1950’s when Bill Salvatore was dominating junior golf in Connecticut (he remains the only player in CSGA history to win the Junior Am three straight years – ’56, ’57, ‘58) no one would have called him the goat. Just the opposite. Enormously talented and always clutch.
But now that the term “goat” or more accurately, “G.O.A.T.” means “Greatest Of All Time” Bill Salvatore is back in the conversation for this highest of compliments.
So who is The GOAT among Connecticut junior golfers?
A few years prior to Bill Salvatore’s emergence, a young man named Dick Siderowf established himself as a very good junior golfer.
In 1954, in his last year of eligibility, Siderowf won the Connecticut Junior, and the following year won the Connecticut Amateur. That feat was unmatched for nearly 60 years until a kid from Glastonbury named Evan Grenus won the Junior in 2014, aged out and then won the Amateur in 2015.
Siderowf went on to become “The GOAT” among Connecticut amateurs – he played on multiple Walker Cup teams, won two British Amateurs, a Canadian Amateur and everything in the Connecticut and metro New York area. But strictly as a junior he probably has to take a back seat to Salvatore, and a handful of others who came later – Brian Murphy, Keith Nachilly, Jeff Hedden, Richard Breed among them.
Ken Green? JJ Henry? Both were good junior players who didn’t really hit their stride until after their teen years.
Fast forward into the 21st century where John VanDerLaan and Brian Carlson stand out. Carlson in particular, who won the New England Junior in 2012 and 2013, reached the Round of 16 in the 2013 US Junior and won an American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tournament by 11 shots. When Carlson headed off to college (Purdue) you could make a strong case that he was The GOAT among Connecticut Juniors.
But now there is Ben James. All this 16 year-old seems to do is win. 2018 and 2019 New England Junior. 2018 and 2019 Northern Junior. 2019 Connecticut Junior. Multiple US Challenge Cup events, and the same AJGA tournament in Vermont in 2019 that Carlson won in 2012.
Then, at the end of last year, he qualified as the youngest member of the U.S. Junior Presidents Cup team competing in Australia, where he and his partners accounted for two points in a close, 13-11 U.S. team victory.
Now a sophomore in high school, James is currently the #1 ranked junior in the country for the class of 2022.
Other than playing his way onto the Presidents Cup Team, James’ most impressive performance in 2019 may have been in a championship he didn’t actually win. Eleven-under par and third place in the Connecticut Open would be considered a great finish for any one of the hundreds of top amateurs and professionals in the field, but for a boy barely old enough to get a driver’s license? It’s something we’ve never seen before.
Except around 20 years ago when Elizabeth Janangelo (now Liz Janangelo Caron) dominated the game like no other Connecticut junior golfer before or since. Brian Carlson won one AJGA title, and so far Ben James has also won one. Liz Janangelo won nine! Liz won five Connecticut Women’s Amateur championships and qualified for the US Women’s Open before graduating from high school in 2002, and she was the #1 ranked junior in the country, not just within her particular class, but for girls of all ages.
So who is The GOAT? Among boys, we’ll go with Ben James. Among all Connecticut junior golfers ever? Gotta be Liz Janangelo.
But that may change over the next couple of years. Ben James is just 16 years old, and the kid has a nasty, filthy game.