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Bennett Navigates Tough Draw Into U.S. Amateur Quarters

By David Shefter, USGA

| Aug 18, 2022 | PARAMUS, N.J.

Bennett Navigates Tough Draw Into U.S. Amateur Quarters

122nd U.S. Amateur Home | Tickets

What Happened

If Sam Bennett goes on to win the 122nd U.S. Amateur Championship at The Ridgewood Country Club, nobody can say he didn’t earn it. The No. 3 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR® has gone through a gauntlet of highly touted opponents to reach the quarterfinals.

On Thursday, the rising fifth-year senior at Texas A&M took out co-medalist and world No. 27 Fred Biondi and No. 10 David Puig to reach his first quarterfinal in three starts in America’s oldest amateur competition.

RELATED CONTENT: Meet the 2022 U.S. Amateur Quarterfinalists

It won’t get any easier on Friday as Bennett, 22, of Madisonville, Texas, will take on two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad, 31, of Newport Beach, Calif., who is No. 9 in the WAGR.

“If you get this far in match play, you've got to play good golf to beat anybody,” said Bennett of his draw. “That's what I did.”

Bennett and Hagestad are joined in the final eight by Nicholas Gross, 15, of Downingtown, Pa.; University of North Carolina rising senior Dylan Menante, 21, of Carlsbad, Calif.; NCAA Division III All-American Alex Price, 21, of Hillsboro, Va.; Pepperdine fifth-year senior Derek Hitchner, 22, of Minneapolis, Minn.; Georgia Southern rising senior Ben Carr, 22, of Columbus, Ga.; and San Diego State rising sophomore Shea Lague, 18, of Jamul, Calif.

Gross, a rising junior at Downingtown West High School who turns 16 on Aug. 24, is the youngest to advance this far in the championship since C.T. Pan, also 15, of Chinese Taipei, in 2007. Before that, one has to go back to 1916 when Bob Jones advanced to the quarters as a 14-year-old at Merion.

Both Gross and Hitchner were among the 11 survivors from Wednesday’s 15-man playoff to determine the final spots in the draw, while Lague rallied from 1 down with one to play to eliminate the last remaining medalist, Townsend, from the four who topped the leader board following stroke play. The medalist has not won this championship since 2004 (Ryan Moore), the longest drought among the 10 USGA amateur competitions.

Bennett could have joined the play-for-pay ranks in June after finishing 10th in the NCAA Championships, thanks to a final-round 64, and tying for 47th in the U.S. Open. But this past spring, he removed his name from PGA Tour University, a ranking system that awards the top five collegiate seniors spots on the Korn Ferry Tour.

He wanted to come back for a COVID year at Texas A&M and have one final crack at hoisting the Havemeyer Trophy. Instead of entering a lot of top summer amateur events, he chose to stay in Texas and play recreationally with his buddies.

Nicholas Gross

Nicholas Gross, 15, of Downingtown, Pa., is the youngest to reach the last eight in the U.S. Amateur since 2007. (USGA/Kathryn Riley)

Despite a difficult draw, he’s three wins away from that goal. On Thursday, he defeated Biondi, a rising University of Florida senior, 6 and 5, and then took out Arizona State rising senior David Puig, of Spain, 4 and 2. On Wednesday, he needed 19 holes to beat 2021 U.S. Amateur semifinalist Nick Gabrelcik, the world No. 13 from the University of North Florida who was the 2020-21 Phil Mickelson Award winner for being the nation’s top freshman.

Bennett’s win over Biondi avenged a 3-and-1 loss earlier this summer to the Brazilian in the Sunday singles session of the Palmer Cup in Switzerland.

“I feel like I was really prepared for this week,” said Bennett, who was 10 under par over his 29 holes played on Thursday. “I didn't play any tournaments, just Palmer Cup [in July], made the cut at the U.S. Open, and I've been playing with my buddies and just having fun and making a bunch of birdies back at my home course (in College Station, Texas). I feel like I was really prepared coming into this week and well rested.”

Hagestad, the oldest remaining player, produced an impressive 6-and-4 win over University of Virginia incoming freshman Ben James (No. 45 in WAGR) in the Round of 32, then defeated world No. 41 Hayden Hopewell, of Australia, 2 and 1. This will be his second appearance in the final eight after losing to eventual champion Tyler Strafaci at Bandon Dunes in 2020. It’s his 13th start in the championship, by far the most among the 312-player starting field.

“None of them are [easy],” said Hagestad, a three-time USA Walker Cupper who also defeated world No. 7 Sam Bairstow on Wednesday. “All the kids are good.”

Gross, a past Drive, Chip & Putt national age-group finalist who lost in the Round of 32 in last month’s U.S. Junior Amateur, won four holes in a five-hole stretch from No. 10 to oust incoming Arizona State freshman Luke Potter, 4 and 3, a run that included consecutive birdies on Nos. 12 and 13.

Menante, who transferred to North Carolina from Pepperdine, where he helped the Waves win the 2021 NCAA title, has enjoyed a solid summer that included a title defense in the Northeast Amateur at Wannamoisett Country Club in Rumford, R.I. He holed a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 18 to eliminate Maxwell Moldovan, 1 up, in a Round-of-16 match in which neither player owned more than a one-hole lead.

On the other end of the WAGR spectrum is Price, from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va. The No. 1,212 player is likely the first current NCAA Division III golfer to ever make the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals. He continued his Cinderella run by taking out 2021 USA Walker Cupper and world No. 20 Ricky Castillo, of Yorba Linda, Calif., 3 and 2. The left-hander played the final seven holes of the match in 4 under par, with the usual match-play concessions. Earlier on Thursday, he outlasted Georgia Tech standout Christo Lamprecht, of South Africa, 1 up.

Shea Lague

A late rally enabled Shea Lague to escape with a 19-hole victory over Hugo Townsend, the last remaining medalist. (USGA/Grant Halverson)

What’s Next

Friday’s quarterfinal matches are scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. EDT. Peacock and Golf Channel will have live coverage from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. EDT. Interested spectators can purchase tickets hereThe semifinals on Saturday are scheduled for 2 and 2:20 p.m. EDT, with Sunday’s 36-hole championship match set for 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Notable

  • The quarterfinalists are exempt into the 2023 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills Village, Colo., and they also earn exemptions from local qualifying for the 2023 U.S. Open.
  • For the third straight year, no international players made the quarterfinals. In the past five years, of the 40 quarterfinalists, only three are from outside the United States.
  • A day after eight matches went extra holes, just two went beyond 18 on Thursday. Ben Carr outlasted Nathan Franks and Shea Lague outlasted Hugo Townsend, each in 19 holes in the Round of 16. No Round-of-32 matches went past the 18th hole. Carr made a 20-foot putt.
  • Of the 32 Ridgewood caddies who started the championship, five made it to the Round of 32: Brian Ross (Andrew Von Lossow), David Weil (Stewart Hagestad), Marti Arribas (David Puig), Danny Bosgra (Campbell Kremer) and Steve Singley (Nathan Franks).
  • Three of the eight quarterfinalists (Nicholas Gross, Shea Lague and Alex Price) are making their first U.S. Amateur start.
  • USA Walker Cup captain Mike McCoy was on the grounds getting an early start on scouting for the 2023 Match on the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. Also at Ridgewood on Thursday were 2019 and 2021 captain Nathaniel Crosby, who won the U.S. Amateur in 1981 at The Olympic Club and 1976 U.S. Open champion Jerry Pate, who won the 1974 U.S. Amateur at Ridgewood.
  • Dennis Walters, the 2018 USGA Bob Jones Award winner and champion of the seated division in this year’s inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open, will conduct a free junior clinic at nearby Paramus Golf Course on Friday at 10 a.m. Interested juniors can register here.

Quotable

“I know C.T. (Cheng-Tsung Pan), I know the history of Bobby [Jones], and obviously he was one of the greats of the game, one of the … top 5 of all time. But to hear something like that at this point in my career, I don't put my name next to those two, and to have something that puts my name next to those two is really special and something I'll remember forever.” – Nicholas Gross on being one of the youngest quarterfinalists in U.S. Amateur history

“I think before I was really immature, and now I've finally grown out of the 12-year-old body. I think mentally these last two years have meant a lot to me in college, and that's really helped my game excel and make the cut for once.” – Dylan Menante on reaching the quarters after failing to qualify for match play in his three previous starts

“Having played in a lot of USGA events (and 13 U.S. Amateurs), I think I know how to prepare a little bit better. I kind of know what to expect a little bit better. I know what it feels like to be in those pressure situations… Obviously if I play great this week, that would be amazing. That would be an incredible accomplishment. To even get to the quarters is a pretty impressive accomplishment.” – Stewart Hagestad on being the lone mid-amateur in the quarters

“It's definitely draining, but I would say I'm just fueled by how cool this moment is and this tournament. It means the world to me.” – Derek Hitchner

“To make it this far is not surprising but unexpected. I didn't expect much coming in this week. But now that I'm here, I'm here to win.” – Shea Lague

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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