U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Tennessee Native Benton Furthers Family’s Athletic Legacy
August 7, 2018 | Kingston Springs, Tenn.
By Bill Fields
Driving to the 118th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship from Fayetteville, Ark., where she is a senior at the University of Arkansas, Kaylee Benton made a pit stop in Jackson, Tenn. Benton was born there, 110 miles west of the championship venue, but it would be a stretch to say she has a sentimental attachment to her hometown.
“I was tiny when we moved,” Benton said.
In fact, she was just 11 months old when the Benton family – father Jeff, mother Shelley and older brothers Colby and Nicklaus – left Jackson. As a retail executive, Jeff was transferred often, and the Bentons have had a number of zip codes in the South, Midwest and their current residence in the Phoenix, Ariz., suburb of Litchfield Park. Benton boasts that, at 21, she already has lived in four state capitals.
For Benton, who comfortably qualified for the Round of 64 at The Golf Club of Tennessee by shooting 68-71, her roots are deepest in Arkansas. Not only did Jeff and Shelley grow up there, Kaylee’s great-grandfather, Jim Benton, was an All-American wide receiver for the Razorbacks in 1930s after attending the same high school in Fordyce, Ark., as legendary college football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
A first-round draft choice, Benton was on NFL championship teams for the Chicago Bears (1943) and Cleveland Rams (1945), catching a touchdown pass in each title game. In a victory over Detroit on a cold, snowy Thanksgiving Day in 1945, Benton – a formidably sized end (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) for the era with sure hands – caught 10 Bob Waterfield passes for 303 yards, the first time any NFL receiver had more than 300 yards in a single game.
“Detroit kept two men on big Jim most of the time,” the Associated Press reported, “but he either faked them out of their T-shirts or simply picked the ball out of their clutching arms. Several catches were made with both defenders’ arms wrapped around him.”
Benton’s single-game yardage record stood for 40 years until Stephone Paige of the Kansas City Chiefs eclipsed it with 309 yards in a 1985 game, and his achievement still ranks fourth all time. Kaylee was 3 years old when Jim Benton, who coached football and ran an oil-marketing company after his playing days, died in 2001 at age 84. In his later years, he became an avid golfer.
“He was a really nice gentleman,” said Shelley, who is serving as Kaylee’s caddie this week. “He walked nine holes every day and played golf until he got cancer and became too weak to do it. He was very competitive.”
Kaylee doesn’t have any memories of her great-grandad but appreciates his legacy.
“Sports definitely runs in the family,” she said. “I played softball for a while. My grandfather played basketball at Ole Miss for a little bit. My brothers played in college [at Arkansas-Little Rock]. My dad is an avid golfer, very competitive. I know my great-granpa loved golf because I’ve heard a lot of stories. It’s pretty cool that I get to go to school where he went to continue the legacy.”
Shelley wasn’t a golfer when she married Jeff, a former baseball player at Central Arkansas, but soon took up the game her husband loves. “I thought I’ve got to learn how to play golf,” she said, smiling, “or I won’t see him.”
This is Kaylee’s third appearance in the U.S. Women’s Amateur – she also advanced to match play last year at San Diego Country Club – and her mother has caddied each time.
“She’s very good,” Kaylee said. “[Sometimes] I get frustrated. She’s very positive and brings me back. She knows my game pretty well, and we have a good time.”
Despite making a double bogey and bogey in her last three holes during Tuesday’s second and final round of stroke play, Kaylee was looking forward to trying to enhance the Benton family athletic legacy with a good run in the second-oldest female amateur golf competition. This past spring, she clinched the winning point for the Razorbacks as they won their first Southeastern Conference women’s golf title.
“I knew if I stayed patient that I had the game in me,” Benton said. “I had an unfortunate finish but played solid over 36 holes.”
Kaylee has a flair for the dramatic, too. She once made a hole-in-one on No. 13 at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville in front of LPGA Tour star Stacy Lewis, an Arkansas alum and strong supporter of the program.
“She comes to some of our practices and our tournaments., helps us out, gives us some advice,” Benton said. “Growing up, I looked up to her, so getting to meet her and talk to her on a friend basis is pretty cool.”
Just another legend to enhance the life of Kaylee Benton.
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.