The choice wasn’t as hard as it appears: Come Monday, Minnetonka senior Ben Sigel will be out on the golf course. Only it won’t be in Springfield, Ohio, playing in a U.S. Open Section Qualifier, an opportunity afforded when he shot a 68 at a local qualifier in early May.
No, Sigel will be out at the Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan, playing for the Minnetonka Skippers as they try to qualify for the Class 3A state meet so they can defend their 2016 state championship.
Priorities, you know.
“It’s because of high school [golf],” Sigel confirmed. “If I didn’t have that, I’d be there. It would be cool, but I’d rather win a state tournament.”
Sigel is the state’s No. 1-ranked high school golfer and the defending Class 3A individual champ. His and his team’s titles whet Sigel’s appetite to do it again. Well, that and the fact that he’s playing on a team that has a legitimate chance to do it again.
“All season, we’ve had one goal in mind and that is to win the state tournament,” he said. “This year, we’ve had more losses, but the competition has been better. It just makes us want to win it more.”
As for himself, Sigel has been considered the state’s top golfer for much of the season and has proved it with his play. He’s been under-par for a majority of his rounds played — “I honestly don’t know how many,” he surmises. “Nine, 10 maybe?” — and has an average score of 68.3.
The key to Sigel’s success? It’s all about what’s happening above his shoulders. Sigel is like a lot of players who drive the ball well or are skilled with the short irons. But few have his ability to put aside an errant shot or unexpected three-putt and move on.
“When you see Ben Sigel, you see a guy who’s not that big and doesn’t hit the ball that far. There’s really not one thing that you would watch and say, ‘Wow’,” said Minnetonka coach John Coatta. “Except for his consistency and mental capacity. I can only remember him having one double-bogey all year. His consistency is absolutely crazy.”
Sigel credits an old-fashioned strategy that never goes out of style: hard work.
“There are a handful of guys who hit the ball as well as I do,” Sigel said. “But I work as hard as anyone in the state. I’ve just consistently gotten better in the winters. I probably practice more in the winter than I do in the summer.”
It was a just a few years ago that he brought his game to a higher level, the result of a simple realization. Bad shots happen, but they don’t need to ruin an entire round.
“When I was younger, I would be just like most young kids and get crazy on the course if I made a bad swing,” he said. “Now, I try to look at the bigger picture, rather than make a bogey and freak out. There are more problems in life than making a bogey.”
His approach trickles down to his teammates. Freshman Gunnar Broin is a bundle of natural ability and oozes potential, but calls Sigel “his mentor.”
“He just makes me play better,” Broin said. “He has the maturity to, when he hits a bad shot, drop it quickly. He knows when it’s time to move on. Of course, his bad shots are a yard or two off the fairway. Mine end up in the woods or in the lake.”
Having a team around him as talented as the Skippers helps fuel Sigel, who has signed to play at Kansas next school year. There’s a natural rivalry within the team that keeps everyone sharp.
“There’s a competitive edge that’s always there,” he said. “That tags along on the course, too. All of us get better from that.”
About forgoing that U.S. Open opportunity, Sigel says he has no regrets.
“I’m just enjoying my last couple of weeks of high school golf,” he said. “I’ve got time. I’ll get in there next year.”