PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida - Benjamin James of Milford, Connecticut, came from behind to win The Junior PLAYERS Championship by four shots at 8-under-par 208.
Thanks to a longtime partnership between the PGA TOUR and the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA), 78 of the world's top-ranked male junior golfers, invited through the Rolex AJGA Rankings, compete each year at TPC Sawgrass in a 54-hole, stroke-play event mirroring THE PLAYERS Championship setup, hole locations, and three-hole aggregate playoff format.
The 15th annual Junior PLAYERS Championship showcases the best of the next generation of future college and professional stars. To date, 40 past players have graduated to play in the PGA TOUR's PLAYERS Championship. Justin Thomas became the first Junior PLAYERS Championship alumni to win the professional event earlier this year. He competed as a junior in 2008 and 2009.
Representatives from seven foreign countries and 19 U.S. states (12 from Florida) highlight this year's field. Four of the top-10 boys in the Rolex AJGA Rankings are in attendance, including Nicholas Dunlap of Huntsville, Alabama, who won the Polo Golf Junior Classic at Liberty National and U.S. Junior Amateur Championship over the summer. The Alabama commit is the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 2 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.
James started the day two strokes back of Dunlap at 4-under-par 140. The two have dominated junior golf this year, with each claiming multiple major victories. James and Dunlap have battled down the stretch in a few of those tournaments, most notably the championship match of the Polo Golf Junior Classic at Liberty National, which went to sudden death. Dunlap ultimately bested James in 20 holes.
At The Junior PLAYERS Championship however, it was James who turned the tables and left with the title. Despite being two back on the first tee, James set out to play his own game. The Virginia commit opened with five straight pars before dropping a stroke on the par-4 No. 6. James didn't let the bogey get to him, and proceeded to par the next two holes.
What happened next was simply phenomenal. James vaulted into the lead after going 5-under on Nos. 9-12. The two-time Rolex Junior All-American fired three straight birdies on Nos. 9-11 before hitting his tee shot to less than three feet on the drivable par-4 No. 12 and promptly draining the eagle putt. Oddly enough, Junior PLAYERS Championship alumnus Justin Thomas also went 5-under over the same stretch in the final round of The PLAYERS Championship in March. He won the tournament by one shot.
At that point in the round, James held a two stroke lead over Dunlap. Holding the clear advantage, James played it smart over the remaining six holes. He had a brief hiccup on No. 14, where he three-putted from 20 feet for bogey, but he immediately got the stroke back with a birdie on the par-4 No. 15.
Facing one of the most challenging closing stretches in golf, James played it cool and closed out the final round with three pars to post a 4-under-par 68. His tournament total of 8-under-par 208 matches the lowest 54-hole total at TPC Sawgrass - THE PLAYERS Stadium Course since the tournament's inception in 2007. The tournament record is held by Kavish Varadan, who shot a 10-under-par 206 in 2016 at Sawgrass Country Club. That was the only year in which the tournament wasn't held at TPC Sawgrass.
Winning this tournament is just awesome. I played really solid the first day, okay the second day and today I played a dream back nine. I was three or four back at one point, and to win by four just shows you how crazy golf is and how you're always in it.
This is just the latest in a string of victories for James in 2021. He's also won the Scott Robertson Memorial, Team TaylorMade Invitational and the Northern Junior Championship. James is No. 6 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.
Dunlap finished second at 4-under-par 212. The Alabama commit is making a name for himself in 2021 with wins at the Dustin Johnson World Junior, Polo Golf Junior Classic at Liberty National and U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. Of nine national junior golf appearances this year, Dunlap has finished outside the top 5 just once. He was a 2019 Rolex Junior All-American.
Jonathan Griz of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and Bryan Lee of Fairfax, Virginia, finished T3 at 3-under-par 213. Griz is a two-time Rolex Junior All-American and committed to Alabama. He's No. 40 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings and finished T5 at the Sea Pines Junior Heritage. Lee is No. 23 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings and committed to Virginia. He finished T2 at the Boys Junior PGA Championship and seventh at the Scott Robertson Memorial.
Sihao Cong of Irvine, California, and Alex Papayoanou of The Woodlands, Texas, finished T5 at 2-under-par 214. Cong, a University of California, Berkeley commit, fired the lowest round of the day with a 5-under-par 67. Papayoanou won the Insperity Invitational / Patrick Reed AJGA Junior Championship in June and is No. 79 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.
Caleb Surratt of Indian Trail, North Carolina, finished seventh at 1-under-par 215. The University of Tennessee commit is No. 5 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.
Ryder Cowan of Edmond, Oklahoma, finished eighth at even-par 216. The University of Oklahoma commit won the 2021 Gateway First Bank Tulsa Junior hosted by Bo Van Pelt.
Jonas Appel of Encinitas, California, Wells Williams of West Point, Mississippi, and Bryan Kim of Brookeville, Maryland, finished T9 at 2-over-par 218.