by Pat McManamon '75
When Ben Smith ’03 got the call that he had been selected for the Saint Ignatius Athletic Hall of Fame, he had one feeling.
“Shocked,” Smith said from Washington, D.C., where he, his wife Andrea Vilan and 8-month-old daughter Penelope live in the Tenleytown neighborhood—and where he works for the Federal Trade Commission.
Shocked because Smith came from a golfing family, and his older brother Ted ’02 had a great career at Saint Ignatius and went on to pursue golf as a career.
“I always think of Ted as the great golfer in the family,” Ben says.
Let it rest as a discussion point. Ben Smith’s career stands on its own merits. He was the first medalist (state champion) in school history, a member of state title teams in 2001 and 2002, and a first-team All-Ohio in 2002. A four-year letter winner, Smith averaged under 75 his final three years, had three Top 20 finishes at the state tournament and was a teammate with Ted when the Wildcats won their first state title in 2001.
Ask him how he’s hitting them these days, though, and Smith laughs.
“It’s been a long time since high school,” he says.
That’s because his path led him to economics and wound through taking courses at the University of Chicago while he worked as a research assistant for a professor. Those courses helped earn him entry into UCLA, where he was awarded an economics doctorate in 2018. He now works in the consumer protection division of the FTC, analyzing the financial impact of businesses that engage in deceptive or unfair practices.
“It’s fun work,” Smith says. “And it seems like it’s relevant and it makes a little difference. I know I’m one cog in a wheel, but overall the wheel matters to the world.”
Between the studies, the new job, the pandemic and being a new father, Smith finds time to play golf perhaps, he says, once a year.
Smith grew up with golf. The family lived behind Lakewood Country Club in Westlake, and Ben affectionately called his father, Robert, “the really crazy golfer.” Frequently when Robert got home from work, he’d take Ben and brothers Ted and Nick ’99 (teammates on the 1998 Wildcats state runner-up team) out for a quick few holes.
That early competition spilled over into his time at Saint Ignatius, where the team’s friendly competition spurred all to success under coach Dan Hess ’88.
“The players on that team were together for a while,” Smith says. “Me, Tommy Wiegand ‘03, Ted, and Matt Busa ‘03 were all on the team when I was a freshman. We played together all the time and we had a good camaraderie. There was a real healthy competition among us. We had a lot of fun teasing each other. I think we just made each other better.
“My oldest brother, Nick, was on the team before me, so I had known about Ignatius golf for a long time, and known a lot of the players before me. It was a family for me, the golf team.”
The 2001 team has been talked about as one of the best golf teams in Ohio history. Smith points out that five members of that team, including him (Miami University) and his brother Ted (North Carolina) competed in Division I in college.
“That’s very rare for one high school,” he says.