By Greg Ritchie
MADISONVILLE – Sam Bennett beat out stiff competition to win the 122nd PGA Amateur Golf Championship Sunday, Aug. 21 at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J.
The fifth-year Texas A&M student faced off against 312 other players from across the country and around the world. Bennett grew up in Madisonville, playing four sports during his high school years there. Bennett was an All-District shooting guard in basketball, defensive specialist in baseball, district champion in tennis and of course, played golf.
Bennett has spoken openly about losing his father to Alzheimer’s last year and the depression that caused. His father was his inspiration in golf, taking young Bennett to the local public course in Madisonville. A long way from the country club atmosphere of the PGA tour.
The 22-year-old is the first U.S. Amateur champion in Texas A&M history and the first from Texas since 2011. After his father died, Bennet’s A&M coach Brian Kortan has served as both his friend, mentor – and in the finals – his caddy. Bennett came a long way to finally stand on the green wearing a gold medal and holding the coveted Havemeyer trophy.
Russell Smith was Bennett’s high school golf and basketball coach. Smith said it was a pleasure to work with the young Bennett.
“Fantastic…unbelievable,” Smith said. “He was All-District shooting guard in basketball, he was All-District in baseball playing short stop – and in between all that – he was the number one golfer in the state of Texas.”
Smith knew and played with Bennett’s father, and chalked up much of his success to hard work and a can-do attitude.
“His work ethic is unbelievable. He puts in the work. He has a unique swing that he learned as a kid. I think he’s had one total private lesson in his life,” Smith continued.
“His dad played the biggest role,” Smith noted. “His father coached him and both of his brothers were stand-out golfers. When I coached him, I just tried to make sure to not mess him up and get him to the tournament on time!”
The future for Bennett is bright. He will enter his extra season with the Aggies as he aims to reclaim his top spot in PGA Tour U and secure Korn Ferry Tour status for next summer. Ascending to world No. 1 in the amateur rankings is within reach as well.
Smith agrees Texas should be proud of Bennett and keep their eyes on him too.
“There’s no limit. His mental game is strong and I could see him doing some great things on the tour,” Smith said. “I don’t think there’s a ceiling. Because of his work ethic and the work he puts into the game. I think it’s just a question of how far he wants to go.”
Greg Ritchie can be reached at email@example.com