Ben Scott had a choice to make.
Boys growing up in Lancashire, England, are encouraged to play soccer and cricket, and Scott’s cricket abilities were good enough to play past high school.
His love, though, was not found in soccer or cricket.
Scott had developed a love for golf, and just before his 16th birthday he put down the cricket equipment and picked up a driver for good.
“Cricket’s a bit more boring,” Scott said.
Scott’s golf career since that decision has been anything but boring. His skill on the course led him from Lancashire all the way to Columbia in 2001 as a recruit on the Missouri men’s golf team.
The journey started in the fall of 2000 when Mike Small, the men’s golf coach at the University of Illinois, noticed Scott at the Polo Junior Golf Classic in Orlando, Fla. Small offered Scott a scholarship, but it would not cover all the costs Scott needed to attend college in the Unites States.
Former Missouri golf coach Tim Robyn and Small were good friends, and when Small realized he could not give Scott what he needed, he gave Robyn a call.
“At the time, it was a fortunate combination of events,” Robyn said.
Robyn said he called Scott the next day, and soon enough the talented golfer from across the Atlantic became the first foreign-born player to receive a full scholarship from the Missouri men’s golf program.
Scott never had an opportunity to visit Missouri before arriving in the fall of 2001. He said he was nervous and had a hard time fitting in when he first arrived.
He said everything was much bigger here than it was in Lancashire, and people would have a hard time understanding some of what he said, which helped contribute to loneliness his first two years.
Scott speaks with a low, thick British accent, and when he does not speak up, understanding him is difficult.
“Some of the words he says you’re just like, ‘What?’” teammate Shawn Jasper said. “So we give him a hard time about that.”
Jasper is in his first year with the team after transferring from Newman University and he and Scott have become good friends.
Scott said he has adjusted to being in America better in the past two years, and becoming better friends with teammates like Jasper, Chris Mabry and Justin Bliss has helped him to cut back on the e-mails and text messages to his friends back home.
He only travels back to England during winter and summer holidays and his parents, Marshal and Catherine Scott, are planning to make their first visit to Missouri next fall.
Scott’s golf game had to go through some changes when he arrived. The biggest adjustment was putting.
The weather in northern England causes greens to be slower, but in America the increased speed took some getting used to. Scott said he is still working on his putting.
“If I can putt well, I’ll be a good golfer,” Scott said.
His greatest strength, according to Missouri golf coach Mark Leroux, is his ability to hit the ball straight almost every time.
Scott agreed that his strength is accuracy, but he said his favorite club to hit is his driver. He has been working in the weight room to add strength and is now driving about 280 yards.
With the added length, improved putting and pinpoint accuracy put together, Scott has experienced what he said is a breakout season.
He is the only player on the team to have played in all 11 tournaments this season and he is second behind Mabry with a scoring average of 72.97.
Scott leads the team with six top-10 finishes on the season, including The Matlock Invitational in Lakeland, Fla., where he won the individual title with scores of 70-73-69 in February.
Jasper said Scott’s consistency has been a blessing for the team.
“It’s nice to go into a tournament knowing that we’ve got one score that’s going to beat 70 today,” Jasper said.
Scott’s swing is smooth and reminiscent of an Ernie Els or Retief Goosen. His 6-foot-3-inch frame adds to the similarities and provides a powerful base from which to start the swing.
His slow, methodical backswing, all the way to his finish, with the shaft of the club nearly resting across his shoulders, lead to a ball going right where he wants.
Even in practice, he watches every shot as if it were headed for the 18th green in the final round of The Masters.
His dedication in practice and lack of a glaring weakness in his game has led Scott to have some lofty goals.
According to Leroux, those future hopes possibly got in the way at a recent tournament after Scott hit two poor shots on an early hole. Leroux was worried Scott was using the tournament as a measuring stick for whether he could turn professional.
“I stopped him and said, ‘I hope that’s not what you’re thinking because you don’t get your tour card for winning this tournament,’” Leroux said.
That warning aside, Leroux said he still believes Scott can make it professionally and that Scott is one of the most talented golfers he has seen.
Robyn said he thinks Scott will wind up playing on the European Tour and he will continue playing professionally as long as he is happy doing it.
Scott missed qualifying for the British Open by one shot in 2000, and he plans to try to qualify again this summer. Although turning professional crosses his mind, Scott said he does not worry about it as much anymore.
He said he is enjoying being part of the turnaround of the men’s golf team this season, and is focus is on playing well now, not in the future.
Scott said his favorite experience in golf was playing for his state team in England when, during a match play tournament, he hit a hole-in-one to bring his match to all square on the 17th hole. A birdie on the 18th gave Scott the win, and his team ended up defeating its biggest rival.
He grew up following Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam closely and had the opportunity to meet Faldo after an event in the Faldo Junior Series.
“He came and spoke to us about life on tour and what it takes to get there and things,” Scott said.
Even if Scott does not make it professionally, Leroux said his personality and qualities off the course will allow him to be successful in whatever he does.
He recalled a story of Scott spending time with Leroux’s 6-year-old son, Lake, while the team was collecting canned goods in the fall. His son wanted to be in Scott’s group, so Scott left the people he had been collecting with, joined up with Lake and ended up walking down the street holding Lake’s hand.
Leroux said that story typifies Scott’s personality.
“He is a leader; he can kind of make the call and people follow his lead,” Leroux said. “He’s tall, too.”