Bankhead, Utes Ready For Pac-12

By Mary Popish

Up until he was fifteen years old, Ben Bankhead's sport was baseball. His older brother Brooks played golf, so when Ben wanted to try a different sport, he hit the course with his brother and took up golf. The brothers, who attended different high schools in McKinney, Texas, faced off in the district golf tournament.

While Brooks had the best individual score, Ben's team won the tournament. And he's been playing ever since.

After he graduated from high school, Bankhead decided to play golf for head coach Randall McCracken at the University of Utah. Bankhead says that McCracken's leadership was one of the main reasons he chose Utah.

"He's an awesome guy and I wanted to go to a big state school, so it was a perfect fit," Bankhead says. "He makes you a better player mentally. He's real confident, a real likable guy. He's a great coach on and off the course."

Bankhead's team maintains a close relationship on and off the course as well. With Utah golf's large freshman class, Bankhead and other upperclassmen are outnumbered by new talent. Bankhead says that he and the other returners are taking advantage of the opportunity to build on a new team.

"We're pretty excited this year," Bankhead says. "We have six freshmen, so it's a completely different team. We're going to be more family-oriented, more of a unit."

The team talked about a group paintball outing, but between practices, tournaments, and classes, Bankhead says that they end up spending most of their time off the course relaxing and enjoying each other's company. The house that Bankhead shares with two of his teammates, junior Joe Webber and sophomore Daniel Engle, is a popular team hangout.

Bankhead says that the time he spends with his new teammates is more about friendship than it is leadership, and that having a good relationship helps the team on the golf course.

"It's more of a mentor than a captain," Bankhead says.  "I know what it's like making a change where you were number one in high school, and now everyone on the team was their high school's number one. We're just trying to help the new guys."

For Bankhead and his teammates, the goal is to win tournaments and become better golfers, both individually and as a team. Utah is beginning its first year in the Pac-12, and Bankhead says that Utah's new conference membership presents a great opportunity to achieve both goals.

"There's a change in field strength," Bankhead says. "Being (in the) Pac-12, we're playing against a lot of guys who are going to be on a pro tour someday. We know what we're up against, and playing against the best is only going to make us better."

With its combination of coaching, camaraderie, and competition, Utah golf looks forward to a successful first season in the Pac-12. Utah's next tournament is the William H. Tucker Invitational on September 30 in Albuquerque, N.M.

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