Sioux Falls, SD
A Sioux Falls high school golfer is preparing to hit the links at one of the most prestigious courses in the country after winning his appeal to play with the pros. An appeals committee with the South Dakota High School Activities Association has ruled that Lincoln junior Ben Clarke can play Pebble Beach next month; a reversal of an earlier ruling that said he'd lose his eligibility for the rest of the season if he played in a pro-am tournament at the famous California course.
Ben Clarke is taking his golf game to a new level from practice with his Lincoln High School teammates at Prairie Green to a best-ball tournament at famed Pebble Beach with some of the game's legends.
"Ben Crenshaw. Tom Watson, if he's there," Clarke said.
The September tournament will be a showcase for The First Tee, a nationwide program that teaches kids golf and life skills. It's a program Clarke has been involved with since he was little.
"They just made me become a better person and realize that the community needs you as much as you need the community," Clarke said.
The South Dakota High School Activities Association denied Clarke's request to play Pebble Beach, citing a bylaw that prohibits athletes from leaving their teams during the season to compete in outside events. But an appeals committee overturned the ruling, much to Clarke's surprise.
"It just seemed like, you know, they didn't want to bend it just for me, but thank God, they did," Clarke said.
Clark says even if the appeal hadn't gone his way, he'd still go ahead and play at Pebble Beach and jeopardize the remainder of his high school season.
"And this isn't my senior state tournament so I still have one more year to play in the state and The First Tee Open means the world, and more to me," Clarke said.
The appeals committee sided with Clarke because his selection to play Pebble Beach wasn't based solely on his athletic skills, but also on his community involvement and his grades. Now Clarke is fine-tuning his game for the upcoming high school season and his Pebble Beach debut.
"It's going to be fun and hopefully, I'll learn a lot," Clarke said.
Clarke even had to write five essays as part of the application process to play at Pebble Beach.
The Nature Valley First Tee Open goes from September 23 to the 28.
Clarke plans to bring one of his Lincoln teammates along to serve as his caddy.