Laffen was calm under pressure

File photo by Jeremy Behnke Sleepy Eye United’s Ben Laffen was named the 2018 All-Journal Player of the Year.

SLEEPY EYE — If Sleepy Eye United senior Ben Laffen ever felt pressure on the golf course, it definitely was last Wednesday during the final round of the Class A state boys’ golf tournament.

Heading to the 16th hole, Laffen was told that he needed a birdie on one of his final three holes to win state for not only himself, but his team. He proceeded to par the 16th and 17th holes, putting the pressure on himself to get a birdie on the final hole of his high school career.

After the tee shot on the Par 4, 18th-hole, Laffen’s second shot left him four feet short of the pin. And like he’s done so many times in his career, Laffen calmly sank the shot, giving him and his team a state title.

It was his first individual state title after finishing in the Top 5 two previous times. The Indians also tied for first place, the school’s first state golf title. The future Minnesota State University, Mankato golfer was named the 2018 All-Journal Boys’ Golfer of the Year, the third time he’s won that honor.

Laffen knew that he had needed a birdie for the state title on his final hole. His coach Crystal Ibberson was confident that he would do it.

As for Laffen, there were some nerves, but he went about it like business as usual.

“Once she told me on 16, the nerves definitely kicked in,” Laffen said. “I had a shot that I normally wouldn’t play to the pin but once she told me that, I said I don’t have a big window here. She said I need a birdie so then I attacked the pin and all of the momentum went my way. I had some really good looks on 16 and 17, they both caught the lip but didn’t fall. Finally on 18 I stuck one tight and made a putt.”

His four-foot putt for birdie wasn’t automatic and he knew that. After studying the shot from several different angles, he approached the ball and tapped it in.

“I looked at probably five or seven different angles, I took my time and I really wanted that putt,” he said. “I saw it track and after the first foot, I knew I had it. I was still really nervous, but..”

Ibberson said that Laffen has been a leader for a couple of years, but this past year his teammates also stepped up in their search for a state title.

“Honestly, I think it was a little bit of both,” she said. “He is just the calm, cool, collected kind of kid and the others see that. I notice they all grew in just their mental game, but him just talking to them made such a difference. With Ben, he sometimes get on them and tells them to get going and they listen.”

While Laffen was one of the favorites going into the state tournament, Ibberson said he was always focused on the team rather than himself.

“Going into the tournament, his comments were always about the team,” she said. “I would only assume that his goal was to finish in the Top 5 range, he knew he had a good shot at it.”

The Indians were tied for the lead after Day 1 of the state tournament. Laffen and his teammates were focused for a state-title run on Day 2.

“With this team, we definitely knew we had a chance,” he said. “When we were leaving the hotel, we were having a good time and having a good conversation in the car. But once we hit the course, we were focused. You can just tell it’s a completely different atmosphere, we get locked in.”

Laffen got to celebrate two state titles in one day. His attention now focuses to college, where he will join several area golfers on the Mavericks. But for now, he has brought a lot of attention to the sport of golf, especially for the younger golfers in Sleepy Eye.

“It’s definitely eye-opening,” Laffen said. “I had a seventh-grader on the team, he chose to follow me [at the state meet]. That means a lot to me, that was awesome.”