Thomas Calbi and Bennett Cotten have crossed paths on area golf courses before.
They met head on at the Mid-American Junior Golf Tour’s Windy City Junior, featuring some of the elite junior boys in the area, in June. Calbi defeated Cotten and won the two-day tournament, shooting 1-under-par 71, followed by a 74 the next day. Cotten finished six strokes behind Calbi with a 77-74—151 total.
More recently, they dueled the top junior boys from around the world.
Calbi, of South Barrington, and Winnetka resident Cotten competed Aug. 4-6 at Pinehurst, N.C., in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship. It’s the largest and most prestigious event for players ages 12 and under, according to uskidsgolf.com.
Calbi, 12, and Cotten, 11, were split according to age, and competed against hundreds of other kids in their group.
In the three-day event, Calbi finished tied for 58th, scoring 75-82-73 for a total of 230.
Despite the 90-degree weather on Day 1, Calbi tied for 22 among 163 boys, but knew the standings could drastically change the next few rounds.
“The second day, I had a little difficulty because things just didn’t go my way, and I hit a couple of bad shots,” said Calbi, whose father, Steve, caddied for him. “My dad always tells me, ‘The next round is around the corner. Don’t worry about the rounds (you) just had.’ So I just forgot about that round, and played like I did the first day. I didn’t realize I had an 82.”
This was Calbi’s third time at the World Championship. He was invited back after being a three-time Player of the Year at U.S. Local Tour events.
In his first appearance at the World Championship, Calbi shot in the mid-80s, but tied for 14th last year.
After competing against the best kid golfers in the world, Calbi felt he was able to sharpen his game in time for the Youth Development Program’s Player of the Year Championship in a couple of weeks.
“It really got me through my process and helped me make better putts, so I can bring that mentality to these (upcoming) tournaments,” said Calbi, who is one of the top junior golfers in Illinois.
In Boys 11 play, Cotten finished tied for 26th out of 144 golfers, shooting 75-71-79 for a 225 total.
As did Calbi, Cotten qualified by competing in local tours, and he made his third trip to the event. This year’s finish was Cotten’s highest, but the 18th hole bothered him most.
“There was a rain delay, so we had to finish (the 18th hole) the next day, and I had to wake up at 5:30 a.m. just to hit two shots,” said Cotten, who was hoping to finish the second round at 3-under. Instead, he double-bogeyed.
“The double-bogey might have gotten to his head,” said Spencer, Bennett’s father, who also caddied. “But I think Bennett walked away realizing that he can play with some of the best kids in the world.”
Cotten agreed that the experience raised his confidence, and may help him someday beat Calbi the next time they step on the same course.
“Ever since playing Thomas Calbi, I always thought he was so good,” said Cotten about the MAJGT tournament in June. “We both shot 74 and that was a confidence-booster for me because I knew I could play with Calbi. I’ve never won an MAJGT tournament. I’ve only gotten second, so I’d like to win a couple of those.”