English transfer Ben Stow was paired with two of his assistant coaches as well as a member of the Champions Trace Golf Club during their practice round. Due to a hectic school schedule created by the same circumstances that led him to the Commonwealth, he was forced to play in the first practice group in order to make class on time.
Stow was still new to the team, having just met his assistants and club member Jeff Garrett. While preparing for their first hole, volunteer assistant Tim Philpot laid out the situation for Stow.
"Jessie (Mudd) and I are playing you and Jeff Garrett, and Jeff is a 16-handicap," said Philpot.
Stow was first to tee off. As he teed up his ball and prepared his first shot, he looked back at the other members of the foursome and said, "Now he's an 11, because I'm a plus-five."
The English transfer promptly stepped up to his position in the tee box, wound up and launched his drive 300 yards down the middle of the fairway and went about his business.
That's who Stow is: a talented, confident, experienced player who figures to bolster a Kentucky men's golf lineup that found success in the fall without him.
Now Stow, who hasn't played in a single tournament since leaving his home in Salisburry, England in August, is chomping at the bit to compete for his new university and new teammates at the University of Kentucky.
That opportunity almost never came as concerns about credits transferring and visa issues arose.
Stow knew it wouldn't be easy, but the opportunity to test himself against some of the best competition the United States has to offer was the primary reason he chose to come to America, play for Kentucky and compete in the Southeastern Conference.
"I've competed at the highest level in Europe," said Stow. "So I was like, 'I want to go to America and see how I fare against those guys,' because there's some good players out here in collegiate golf."
Meanwhile, Stow was working tirelessly and purposefully to maintain his game as he plotted his potential move across the water hazard known as the Atlantic Ocean. He played a tournament in Iceland, the European Championship, spent six hours at home where he spent time with friends, ate dinner and was back in the air on his way to Kentucky.
It only took one visit to the United States, one visit to UK's campus - an empty summer campus with few students around - for Stow to make up his mind. He would spend his junior and senior seasons at the University of Kentucky instead of the United Kingdom.
"I sat down with my dad when I got back," said Stow. "I had eight hours on the plane, and I was like, 'Dad, I love it. I think it's the right thing to do.' "
Stow had other options. He says that South Carolina, Tennessee and Illinois each reached out to him, but Kentucky was the only place that he visited. But it was no stroke of luck that Stow randomly decided to play for Brian Craig and the Kentucky men's golf program. It all culminated with one of Craig's contacts, a valuable one that helped him land the talented European.
Terry Casey, the father of English golfer and PGA Tour member Paul Casey, had reached out to Craig to tell him about one of his players that he managed in the English Golf Union. Terry suggested to Stow that he think about playing in the United States and that he take a look at Craig's program at the University of Kentucky. Stow loved the atmosphere and the people that he met during his lone trip to the Bluegrass State.
The Atlantic Ocean was hardly the only obstacle between Stow and his collegiate golf career, however.
Often times, transferring from one college to another is a difficult process, even when both schools are in the same country. Credits don't transfer, curriculum differs, and not every institution offers the same degrees. Becoming an American student by transferring from an English university doesn't help much in those matters.
Stow and Craig waited, holding their breaths collectively waiting for a decision on whether or not Stow would be a Wildcat. It went down to the wire, but news finally broke that he would be eligible to play for Craig at UK.
Stow got over here as fast as he could, but time was ticking. Visa issues slowed the process down even more for him, and chances of him making it to campus in time for the beginning of his first semester were diminishing by the day. Looking for any possible way to speed up the process, the staff looked to Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell. The Senator came through, helped speed up the process and with great haste did Stow start his voyage.
At the last possible moment, Stow enrolled at the University of Kentucky right at the end of the add/drop period in the early portion of the fall semester. And the rest, well, is still to be determined.
Stow has yet to play a single round for Kentucky, but he's already making an impact on his new teammates who have taken him in almost immediately. While some players may resent a player of Stow's status and the experience he brings to the table, the team has embraced him with the possibilities of what could be.
"Ben's got a trait that every great player has, and it's the number one trait and that's desire," said Craig. "That's where he's rubbed off on the team is in desire because that trumps everything. So that kind of desire to train and do what you need to do to get better is a great model to your peers.
"Ben's got a unique opportunity to be a leader right off the bat even though he hasn't been here very long, he's very well connected with the guys."
His desire, or as Stow calls it, "work ethic," is what has made him into a player who has built a resume that says he has earned the No. 2 ranking in Europe among players age 21 or younger, played on several continents and competed in the top European events in the sport has to offer.
"I've always been a very, very driven person. Competitive I suppose," said Stow. "When I get my work hat on, it's kind of hard to get me out of that state."
Though Stow claims he's always had something "burning inside" of him, his competitiveness and passion for the game really took off after training sessions with Ryder Cup veteran and European player Gordon Brand Jr. Brand Jr., a relentless worker who told Stow stories of his days of playing in tournaments with bandages on his hands because of cuts left on his palms due to tireless practice habits, has made a long-lasting impact.
"He said to me, 'If you work harder than everyone else, then success is inevitable,'" said Stow.
Stow has weaved those words of wisdom into his own daily fabric.
"Kind of one of my mottos when I get up and train is if I give 100 percent every day, then success is inevitable," said Stow. "If I put in 100 percent every day, I don't need to worry about being successful because I know I'm going to get there. It's just a matter of when."
Stow, however, hopes the when is sooner rather than later. He has Tiger Woods-like expectations and aspirations. After a five-month layoff from the sport he's spent his whole life passionately training for, he's ready to get back into the swing of things to prove to everyone and to himself that he's one of the very best. He's not bashful about it either.
"I'd like to be the best player on the team, have the lowest stroke average," said Stow. "I'd like to kind of get the team into the top-25 and make the NCAA Tournament. On a personal level, I'd like to eventually get SEC Player of the Year and be an All-American."
But the Englishman doesn't just want to be an All-American, or an All-European. Stow has his sights set even higher. With his tireless training and desire, maybe his goals aren't that far-fetched.
"As far as I'm concerned, the sky's the limit," said Stow. "I want to be the best golfer in the world at some point."
When January rolls around and Stow finally tees it up for the first time as a Wildcat in the Jones Cup Invitational, it will be nearly five months since Stow played a meaningful round of golf, something he hasn't done since he was 12 years old. It will be an opportunity to get a head start on the season after sitting out the fall, but also to help to get him rolling as he looks to help elevate his team to the highest level. While Stow is brimming with anticipation for the upcoming season, his head coach is just as giddy with the opportunity to add a player of Stow's stature to an already surging UK lineup.
"I'm excited because I think we have a chance to be a really special team this spring," said Craig. "We have a chance to really be good. We were good in the fall, but we have some guys I think can play better. And then with Ben in there, we've got a whole new dynamic to the lineup."