Bennett Holds Off Carr to Win 122nd U.S. Amateur at Ridgewood
August 21, 2022 | Paramus, N.J.
By David Shefter, USGA
Nobody would have questioned Sam Bennett had he chosen not to return to Texas A&M University for a fifth year of eligibility. An All-American who finished tied for 49th in this year’s U.S. Open, Bennett had all of the recommended credentials to enter the play-for-pay ranks.
But he didn’t feel the timing was right. He wanted to graduate. He wanted to mature a bit more, and he enjoys being around his Aggie teammates. That explains why he chose to stick around College Station, Texas, this summer after the Arnold Palmer Cup in early July rather than chase titles on the summer amateur circuit.
Turns out to have been a great decision.
Bennett, the No. 3 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR®, capped off a brilliant week in the 122nd U.S. Amateur Championship at The Ridgewood Country Club with a hard-fought, 1-up victory over Georgia Southern fifth-year senior Ben Carr in Sunday’s 36-hole championship match. The 22-year-old who grew up on a nine-hole course in Madisonville, Texas, joins the likes of Bob Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods on the Havemeyer Trophy.
Bennett was already exempt into next year’s U.S. Open at The Los Angeles Country by reaching the title match, but by winning, he can play as a professional, something he said he plans to do after the NCAA Championships in Arizona next spring.
“It means everything,” said Bennett, who had Texas A&M coach Brian Kortan on his bag. “It's a dream come true. It doesn't even feel real looking at all these people on the 18th green at Ridgewood. I don't even know what I'm saying right now. But it means a lot to hold that trophy. I'm sure tonight I'll take a peek at all the names, but I know Tiger Woods' name is on it three times, and to put my name beside him, I know it's something pretty special.”
Bennett’s daunting road to the championship match was well documented, as he played the Nos. 13, 27, 10, 9 and 8 players in the WAGR to set up the match with No. 70 Carr, his lowest-ranked opponent. Although Bennett built as much as a 5-up lead, Carr’s indefatigable spirit made sure this would not be a runaway victory.
Two 60-foot-plus birdies on the 23rd and 24th holes – a putt and a chip-in – helped spur a rally and charged up the gallery of some 2,000 spectators, many rooting for the underdog.
“I started to climb back into the match the second 18,” said Carr, of Columbus, Ga. “I was playing solidly and was able to get a couple holes off of him. But even when it looked like we might eventually go into extra holes, he just looked so calm. I mean, I don't think either of us were honestly too nervous all day. This is the calmest I've been all week.”
Carr missed a golden chance to win the par-5 31st hole when Bennett hit his second shot out of bounds to the left of the green. Carr shockingly followed Bennett by sending his own second shot OB, leading to a pair of double-bogey 6s. One hole later, Bennett, holding a 3-up lead, lipped out a 2½-foot par putt that trimmed his margin to 2 up.
Roars went up again from Carr’s gallery when he rolled in a 14-foot birdie putt on the par-5 35th hole before Bennett missed from 12 feet to force the match to the 36th hole.
On the 464-yard par 4, Bennett found the fairway after Carr flared his tee shot into the right rough. A day earlier in the semis, Bennett hit one of his best approach shots of the week – one that led to a club twirl – to defeat Dylan Menante, and he came up with another on Sunday. At first, he thought his 8-iron from 168 yards was too far left. But the ball found the left side of the green, leaving a 15-foot birdie putt.
Carr’s approach trickled over the green into the thick rough, and likely needing a miracle hole-out to force extra holes, he left the shot 12 feet short of the flagstick. Needing only to two-putt, Bennett coaxed his ball to within inches of the hole. Hats came off and the two shared an emotional embrace.
“He wanted to be more mature so that he could handle the stage that he was going to move on to, and genuinely he wanted to play as a Texas Aggie for another year because he knows when he leaves it's all about him,” said Kortan. “He doesn't have a buddy to pick him up. He'll be in the world where … your buddies are going to wish you played better but everybody else is going to wish you played worse so they can beat you. He likes playing on the team. He's been a team guy. He wants to be part of that.”
While the players hail from different parts of the country, they shared a bond on Sunday as each lost his father in the past three years; Carr lost his father, David, in 2019, and Bennett’s father, Mark, died in 2021. The last thing Mark wrote to his son was “Don’t wait to do something,” a phrase Sam tattooed on his left arm. Several times down the stretch, he looked at that tattoo for inspiration.
“The golfing gods, I guess, were with me,” said Bennett.
Bennett took a 3-up lead after the morning 18, shooting the equivalent of 3-under 68 – with concessions – to Carr’s 72.
It was shortly after the lunch break that Bennett realized that he was playing in front of a pro-Carr gallery. But he decided to use that to his advantage.
“I was like, this is exactly what I want,” said Bennett. “Just to play and try to hush the crowd a little bit. It kind of added pressure to him because everybody was rooting for him so hard. So I think that made it a little tougher for him, as well.”
What the Champion Receives
- A gold medal
- Custody of the Havemeyer Trophy for one year
- Exemptions into the next 10 U.S. Amateur Championships
- Exemption into the 2023 U.S. Open Championship at The Los Angeles Country Club
- Exemption into the 2023 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool (must be an amateur)
- Likely invitation into the 2023 Masters Tournament (must be an amateur)
- Runner-up Ben Carr received a silver medal, an exemption into the 2023 U.S. Open, a likely invitation into the 2023 Masters and a three-year exemption to the U.S. Amateur. He must remain an amateur to play in both major championships.
- Twelve of the last 14 U.S. Amateur champions, including Sam Bennett in 2022, have led at the lunch break. The lone exceptions were Andy Ogletree (2019) and Tyler Strafaci (2020).
- Bennett is the first Texas A&M golfer to win the U.S. Amateur and the third with ties to the program to claim a USGA title, joining 2008 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Cameron Peck and 2015 U.S. Senior Open champion Jeff Maggert. He’s also the first champion from Texas since Kelly Kraft in 2011.
- Carr was bidding to be the first U.S. Amateur champion from Georgia since Steve Melnyk in 1969. He also was trying to become the second player/alum from Georgia Southern to win the U.S. Amateur (Stewart “Buddy” Alexander in 1986).
- The U.S. Amateur was the final domestic championship for USGA president Stu Francis, who will retire from the Executive Committee in February. Francis, who was the first-tee starter for the afternoon round of the final, is headed to France in the coming days to attend the World Amateur Team Championships. Fred Perpall, the USGA president-elect, was the first-tee starter for the last 3½ days.
- Both caddies in the championship match are former tour players. Texas A&M coach Brian Kortan, who carried for Bennett, enjoyed a 16-year professional career on the PGA, Nationwide (now Korn Ferry), Hooters, Dakotas, Gateway and Adams tours. He qualified for the 2008 U.S. Open and 1990 U.S. Amateur. Willy Wilcox, who was on Carr’s bag, won the 2013 South Georgia Classic on KFT and the 2010 Dakota Dunes Open on PGA Tour Canada. He famously made an ace on TPC Sawgrass’ 17th hole during the 2016 Players Championship. He qualified for the 2011 U.S. Open and 2008 U.S. Amateur.
“I was not ready. I mean, starting before I played my first [of four professional] events [as an amateur], I was nervous. I could barely get the ball on the tee. Playing the U.S. Open [in June at The Country Club] really helped, and it showed today. I was nervous, but I enjoyed the crowds and the people.” – Sam Bennett when asked about coming back to Texas A&M for a fifth year
“I think getting over the hump, seeing and believing that he was really good. He's not physically imposing [and] he doesn't have the prettiest golf swing. He didn't grind all summer playing all those amateur events. But it's OK. He knows who he is and what he likes, and he got through that by kind of getting over that hump and understanding that with some maturity he really could do this.” – Brian Kortan, Bennett’s caddie and golf coach at Texas A&M
“I think he would have been really proud of the way I handled myself. That was always much more important to him than the outcome of any sporting event, was the way I carried myself and spoke about my competitors and people who support me and just stay humble. That was the biggest thing I learned from him.” – Ben Carr on his late father
“This is a really special place, a special golf tournament. To have so many friends and family here from Columbus and Statesboro (Georgia), Virginia; I could go on and on about where they came from. It's just crazy. To have so many locals and members and whoever just kind of latch on and wanting me to win so bad, maybe even more than I wanted it. It just makes me feel so much better about maybe not winning.” – Carr on the support he received this week
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Social Scene
👏— Georgia State Golf Association (@GSGA) August 21, 2022
What a ride for @_bencarr of Columbus at the #USAmateur!
It was fun watching you on the biggest stage in amateur golf and show that competitive fire! You certainly made all your family, friends and everyone in the Peach State proud 🍑
📸 via @USGA pic.twitter.com/wjnfdluxYv