University Place, Wash. — Brad Benjamin refers to himself as a professional amateur, with his goal being a position on the USA Team for the 2011 U.S. Walker Cup – a competition that is more than a year away.
His approach is every bit that of a professional, the lone exception being no paycheck.
I’m taking it in a professional manner; I practice and play every day, said Benjamin, winner of the 2009 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. I had never played in the Porter Cup, the Northeast Am or the Sunnehanna, and my only option this spring – expect maybe an exemption here or there because of the Public Links – would have been to play the mini-tours.
The mini-tours will always be there. This was an opportunity to play in these great events, and I believe the fields are just as strong and the courses are just as challenging.
Benjamin is treating this week’s 110th U.S. Amateur Championship at Chambers Bay, which sits hard against the Puget Sound, as he would a professional major.
For an amateur, it does not get any bigger than this, said Benjamin, who defeated Amory Davis 3 and 2 in Thursday’s second round and faces David Chung in the afternoon’s third round.
As crazy as the notion may sound, Benjamin sees a lot of similarities between Chambers Bay and Augusta National Golf Club, where he shot 6-over-par 150 in April to miss the cut by three strokes.
I know the course looks completely different, but it plays absolutely similar, said Benjamin, who plays left-handed and putts right-handed. The landing areas off the tees are generous, it’s a second-shot course and there is an emphasis on positioning the ball in the right places. You really need to have your short game in shape.
Benjamin, 23, of Rockford, Ill., has had plenty of time to get his game in order. He graduated from the University of Memphis in spring 2009. He played the amateur circuit last summer – winning the APL in Norman, Okla., in July –then spent the off-season honing his game physically and mentally. He accepted an honorary membership to a country club back home and practiced at Belfair, a private club near Hilton Head, S.C. That made him ineligible to repeat as APL champion.
No worries. He viewed this summer like a professional tour.
Benjamin, who will represent Illinois at next month's USGA Men's State Team Championship, tied for third at the Sunnehanna, was runner-up at the Northeast Am and finished 16th at the Jones Cup.
The middle of the summer was a little bit slowed, but it was a good learning experience because my main goal was to put a real busy schedule together, he said. Now I’m playing better here at the end when it’s most important.
Though neither of Benjamin’s first two matches has gone beyond the 16th hole, he knows the remainder of the week is sure to be more stressful.
If you win here, you will have played six matches, so you’re not going to win all six from being ahead, he said. The first one I won being ahead [6 and 5 over Tommy McDonagh], this one I got ahead and [Davis] made a little charge there at the end. So I’ve had two of the three you’re going to have. I’m still expecting one in which I need to come from behind.
When Benjamin eventually does turn professional, he expects to have seen just about all situations – and to be more than prepared.
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship Web sites.