Washtenaw golfers impress recruiters, despite short game struggles
A strong breeze blew over the green as Carl Beniben practiced his putting for Washtenaw Community College’s Club Sports golf team. As the gusts blew harder and harder, his bag leaned tenuously into the spring air.
It tottered in the wind until slipping into the grass – snapping the shaft of Beniben’s driver. His team was set to challenge Cleary University the next day.
Beniben adapted and played through the tournament, unphased. Hitting his drives with a 3-iron at 235 yards into the wind, Beniben was able shoot a 90, 10 strokes out of first place.
He was quickly approached by Cleary golf coaches looking to sign the 25-year-old business major from Dexter to their roster. The WCC team beat Cleary in the tournament, to remain undefeated with three wins.
“My precision impressed them,” Beniben said. “My short game kinda let me down, but that can be worked on. I’m not trying to crush the ball.”
Beniben ultimately passed on offers from Cleary. He hopes to transfer into a higher level of competition than Cleary could offer, such as Ferris State University.
However, Randy Norris, Beniben’s Washtenaw teammate, embraced Cleary as he was offered two years of fully paid tuition to golf. He’ll enroll this fall.
The 24-year-old from Ann Arbor admits to struggling on the green, but was able to excite coaches from Cleary with his drive and approach shots. His drives averaged 310 yards.
After a season of practicing around his course load at WCC, studying business management along with a full-time job, Norris is ready to move on.
“I was fortunate enough to play at WCC. I impressed the coaches at the tournament (against Cleary),” he said. “I hit the ball long off the tee, but my touch has gotten much better. There’s not a whole lot of time to practice with work, but whenever I get a spare half-hour it’s practice, practice, practice.”
After golfing throughout high school and at St. Clair County Community College, Norris was offered a scholarship to play at Concordia University, but still could not afford tuition.
Having found a more convenient avenue for his talents at WCC, his sights are now set on joining the National Golf Association’s Hooters Tour after college. To Norris, the tour signifies a stepping stone into the national level.
“People around me have more confidence in me making it than I do,” Norris said. “I guess it’s about conquering my own self-confidence. Thank you to WCC for giving me this opportunity.”
Norris attributed his success and that of his teammates to the teachings of coach Jason Towler. Towler works closely with players at their weekly practices at Ypsilanti’s Eagle Crest Resort, critiquing their swings at first on the driving range and then in the course itself.
“We’ve been good from the start,” Towler said. “Everyone loves golf. It was hard to pick a team. We had a huge turnout. This season we’ve really got back to the fundamentals, the basics, and we’ve been doing amazing against the bigger schools. These guys don’t give up.”