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A Walker Cup star’s dream of winning the NCAA Division I men’s golf title was derailed in perhaps the most brutal way: a slow-play penalty. 

Ben James, the world’s fifth ranked amateur golfer, missed out on a playoff by one at the prestigious national college championships in California.

James finished behind Hiroshi Tai, the champion from Georgia Tech, in a six-way tie for second at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa’s North Course.

The 20-year-old missed a birdie putt on the 18th to force sudden death with Tai on Monday, but he was then left to reflect on the agonising slow play penalty on Friday that would ultimately cost him dearly.

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Whilst speaking with Golf Digest on the ground, James confirmed that he and his playing partner Baard Skogen (Texas Tech) both received one stroke penalties on the penultimate hole of their first round.

The duo had been warned and were on the clock from the 14th hole after they both posted double bogeys on the par-4 13th, with James losing his drive out of bounds. Oklahoma’s Ben Lorenz, the third player in the group, did not receive a penalty.

“A lot of unfortunate events,” James said afterwards. “We weren’t trying to slow up play. We were just trying to play our best golf.”

James’ opening round 72 then became a one-over 73 and he then posted 71-69-73 to fall one shot shy.

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It’s a crazy game,” he added. “One shot. It’s the rules, but it sucks. It’s stings. There’s such a fine line in golf.”

For his own peace of mind, James revealed he had spoken to tournament officials to explain his side of things after being issued with the penalty.

“I knew the result was going to change but I wanted to get everything out,” he said. “And I think that was important. … It made me feel better giving my two cents.”

James’ NCAA dream is not over just yet despite losing out on that title. After the men’s national champion was crowned, all eyes turned to the team matchplay, where his Virginia side will take on Auburn in Tuesday’s quarter-finals.

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Ben Parsons joined bunkered as a Content Producer in 2023 and is the man to come to for all of the latest news, across both the professional and amateur games. Formerly of The Mirror and Press Association, he is a member at Halifax Golf Club and is a long-suffering fan of both Manchester United and the Wales rugby team.

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