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College golf notebook: Texas A&M's Sam Bennett earns Tour start; Duke women make statement

Sam Bennett
Isaiah Alonzo/Texas A&M

During the college golf season, will check in weekly to update what’s happening in the world of college golf.

Six years ago, Sam Bennett bogeyed three of his last four holes, shot 77 and finished two strokes behind winner Garett Reband at the AJGA Valero Junior Texas Open.

On Wednesday, Bennett, now a junior at Texas A&M, found himself in another final-round battle for Reband, a fifth-year senior at Oklahoma – and on the same course, TPC San Antonio’s Oaks layout, where the PGA Tour annually plays the Valero Texas Open.

Bennett started the final round of the Cabo Collegiate three shots back of 36-hole leader Vincent Norrman of Florida State and one behind Reband. But a closing 5-under 67, highlighted by six birdies in his last 13 holes, was enough to give Bennett his first college win by a shot over Reband, who fired a bogey-free 68 to cap his tournament.

“When we finished, Garett came up to me and said, ‘I got you last time, you got me this time,’” said Bennett, whose 5-under performance led the Aggies to a third-place finish behind winner Oklahoma and runner-up Florida State.

Bennett, a hard-nosed kid who didn’t miss a tournament as a sophomore despite breaking his left collarbone in an intramural flag football game and having surgery, had come close to winning a college event before, including at last week’s Border Olympics, where he led after two rounds only to follow with a closing 76 and tie for fifth, three shots shy of teammate Dan Erickson.

“I choked,” Bennett admitted.

Wednesday’s victory erased any bad taste in Bennett’s mouth as the junior outplayed the other three members of the final foursome – Reband, Norrman and Arizona State’s Mason Andersen, who have combined for 11 individual college victories – and topped a stacked field that also included five U.S. Walker Cuppers in Florida State’s John Pak, Texas teammates Cole Hammer and Pierceson Coody, Oklahoma’s Quade Cummins and Oklahoma State’s Austin Eckroat.

“I’ve always known I could compete with the best in college golf, but I just never got the job done,” said Bennett on the van ride back to College Station, his trophy in his lap. “Now, I know it and I’ve gotten the job done.”

Bennett will be making the drive back to TPC San Antonio in a few weeks. An added benefit to winning Wednesday was a sponsor exemption into the Valero Texas Open. The April 1-4 event will mark Bennett’s first PGA Tour start.

Not bad for a kid from Madisonville, Texas, a small town about 20 miles outside of College Station, where Bennett learned the game on a rundown nine-hole golf course.

“It’s going to be sweet,” Bennett said. “I’ve worked my whole life for this and always dreamed of playing in a Tour event. Today was pretty special to get the job done and close out my first win, but to also get a spot into the Valero Texas Open, it’s even more special.”

Bennett didn’t have to think long when asked about his goals for next month’s Tour debut.

“Just going to treat it like any other time I tee it up,” he said. “Going to try and win.”

Duke Athletics

The champ is here

Several women’s national title contenders converged on Columbia Country Club in Blythewood, S.C., for this week’s Gamecock Intercollegiate.

Baylor was gunning for a sixth straight win to stay undefeated. Wake Forest was fresh off its first victory of the season at Kiawah. Host South Carolina and Ole Miss were coming off their second team titles.

But in the end, it was the reigning NCAA champion leaving with the hardware.

Led by individual champion Erica Shepherd, Duke shot even par in 54 holes to defeat Wake Forest by three shots on Wednesday. In tough conditions, Shepherd led the field with 14 birdies as the sophomore shot 7 under to also win by three shots. Freshman Phoebe Brinker tied for third at 2 under for the Blue Devils, who ham and egged it well with their other three players not finishing better than T-40 but each of them posting at least one score of 74 or better.

“It does seem like a while ago; in fact, it was a while ago,” Duke head coach Dan Brooks said of his team still holding the title of defending national champs. “But I don’t spend a lot of time on the past, and you learn that as time goes on, not to think about the past. Honestly, I haven’t thought about it that much. We’ve moved on. New people, new team, and we’re going to see if we can do it again this time.”

Only two players remain from Duke’s 2019 championship squad: Gina Kim and Jaravee Boonchant, the latter of whom has yet to tee it up this spring for the Blue Devils, who possess one of the smallest rosters in college golf with just six players. The senior hasn’t played anywhere since last March’s Darius Rucker Intercollegiate because of the COVID-19 pandemic, opting to play it safe and stay home in Thailand rather than travel.

However, Brooks said Boonchant recently felt comfortable enough to fly back to the U.S. She landed in Durham, North Carolina, on Tuesday evening. Part of Boonchant’s decision likely is due to Duke’s stringent coronavirus policies, which include daily testing of athletes. Even while traveling to events, Duke’s golfers must test. A courier service picks up the tests each day and delivers them back to campus for results.

“It’s quite something,” Brooks said. “Our university and department have done an excellent job.”

Duke has just three events left on its spring schedule before the ACC Championship, including only one full-field, stroke-play event, the Valspar Augusta Invitational, which begins March 13 in Augusta, Georgia. It’s not much time for Boonchant to shake off the rust, but with Shepherd starting to realize her potential (she’s gone third, win to open the spring), Brinker bouncing back after a tough college debut and Kim enjoying a strong winter highlighted by her win at Harder Hall, Brooks is confident his team is good enough to beat anyone regardless of the five players he has out there. The Blue Devils proved his point Wednesday.

“We have some really talented kids and some great character, and that includes all six of them,” Brooks said, “so if one of them isn’t there, we still have a really good team.”

Support from grandfather fueling Illinois' Feagles

Support from grandfather fueling Illinois' Feagles

D2 in name only

Forty-one women’s teams teed it up Sunday-Tuesday in the Kiawah Island Classic. Forty of those teams are Division I. One of them is not.

The team that is not – Division-II Dallas Baptist – won. Go figure.

The Patriots, who are the top-ranked team in the WGCA’s D-II coaches’ poll, shot 1 over in 54 holes around both Oak Point and Cougar Point to win by 27 shots over runner-up College of Charleston. Three Dallas Baptist players finished T-5 or better, including medalist Faith DeLaGarza, who bested the field by two shots at 3 under.

“When you tee it up, you don’t get extra shots for being a big-time recruit or being at a D1 or whatever, you still have to get it in the hole,” Patriots head coach Kenny Trapp told Golfweek. “As years have gone on, especially in the last five years or so, it’s getting closer and closer. There’s just so many players now, the game has just expanded so much that they don’t have a lot of places to go and people want to win. People want to have a chance to win a national title. There’s always going to be, now, the top five or 10 in D-II are going to be in that top 100 and a couple of us are top 50 even in that D-I arena.”

Taking shape

Less than three months after the 2020 Arnold Palmer Cup, the rosters for this year's match-play event are beginning to take shape.

On Wednesday at Bay Hill, 12 players were announced as committee selections. Filling out the first six spots on the U.S. team were Florida's Ricky Castillo, Texas' Pierceson Coody, Georgia's Trent Phillips, Wake Forest's Rachel Kuehn, USC's Allisen Corpuz and Arkansas' Brooke Matthews. The six international selections were Wake Forest's Alex Fitzpatrick, Arizona State's David Puig, Florida's Yuxin Lin, South Carolina's Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, LSU's Ingrid Lindblad and Florida State's Beatrice Wallin.

The rest of the two 24-player sides will be revealed on May 3. The 2021 Palmer Cup will be played June 11-13 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Illinois.