PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — “I thought I was done,’’ Ben Griffin said.
Just two years ago at age 24, Griffin was finished with his life as a fledgling professional golfer. He had given it a go, trying to qualify for the PGA Tour and its minor league circuit, the Korn Ferry Tour, and he hadn’t been able to crack it.
So, he felt it was time to get on with his life, find a real job.
“I didn’t want to be a golfer anymore,’’ Griffin recalled Friday after he closed out the second round of his first Players Championship as the leader in the clubhouse at 6-under.
Yes, you read that right. Two years after giving up on his dream — temporarily as it turned out — Griffin has his PGA Tour card and, through 36 holes in the Tour’s signature event, is very much in contention to win it.
When play was suspended due to dangerous weather Friday evening, Griffin stood two shots out of the lead. The leaders, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Adam Svensson, were at 8-under, but still have to finish their second rounds Friday morning.
In the spring of 2021, Griffin left pro golf behind, went through accreditation tests and became a loan officer at CIMG Residential Mortgage in Chapel Hill, N.C.
A true moment of fate changed that trajectory. So much for interest rates and mortgages.
Griffin met a man named Doug Sieg, the managing partner of Jersey City-based investment firm Lord Abbett. Griffin was paired up for a random nine holes with Sieg and his daughter, Taylor, at Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons Island, Ga. Sieg had taken his daughter there during the COVID-19 pandemic to play some golf.
Sieg was so impressed with Griffin after those nine holes, he offered to back him financially to help him realize his PGA Tour dream. Griffin, his mind made up, politely told Sieg he was sticking to his desk job.
“If anything ever changes, let me know,’’ Sieg told Griffin.
Months later, Randy Myers, a Sea Island-based golf trainer who works with Griffin and was a graduate-assistant strength coach at Penn State when Sieg played football there, called Sieg and said, “Ben is coming back, and he’s going to be great.’’
Sieg then spoke to Griffin.
“Ben told me, ‘I can’t see myself doing anything else in the world but playing on the PGA Tour, and I want to go do it,’ ’’ Sieg told The Post on Friday. “I said, ‘Why don’t you come up [to New Jersey], and we’ll meet.’ He got in a car and drove up, and I took him out to Baltusrol. He was 3-over after three holes and birdied nine of the next 11 holes, and I was like, ‘OK, let’s do this.’
“I’ve never been around a guy who represents himself so well and dreams so big.’’
On Friday, Griffin led the Players at 8-under and hadn’t bogeyed a hole in his second round before he double-bogeyed No. 18. Yet as he walked off the course, you’d have thought he had birdied the hole.
Sieg said: “The text he sent me right after the round said, ‘You can’t believe what a great round this was. I can’t wait for this weekend. At least I’m not going to sleep on the lead. I’ll be ready to go.’
“Nothing bothers him. He’s got such a great attitude.’’
Sieg had a similarly profound exchange with Griffin in October after the young golfer finished tied for third at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship after he had led the tournament with seven holes to play.
“About 20 minutes afterward he called me and said, ‘I wake up every day and go to a golf course. I’m the luckiest guy in the world,’ ’’ Sieg said. “His perspective from taking the time away, in my mind, just really allowed him to center himself and understand what was important.’’
The only thing that wiped the perpetual smile from Griffin’s face on Friday came when he recounted those who’ve helped make this all possible for him, beginning with Sieg and including two other angels in the fairway, Jesse Ahearn and Mike Swann.
Griffin met Ahearn and Swann while playing a Korn Ferry event in Springfield, Mo. Like Sieg, they were so moved by him that they, too, wanted to help. They paid for his Q School entry, and damned if he didn’t earn his PGA Tour card.
“They’re the only reason I’m playing golf right now,” Griffin said. “I will always have that perspective the rest of my PGA Tour career and it will benefit me going forward.’’
Griffin had tears in his eyes now.
When I relayed that poignant scene to Sieg, I could feel his emotion over the phone.
“It’s incredibly rewarding,’’ Sieg said. “We have 750 people at Lord Abbett who get the benefit of watching this incredible dream play out. He’s not afraid to dream big.’’
Now, they dream big together.