When Jerry Pate won the 1974 U.S. Amateur – the last one contested at The Ridgewood Country Club before the 2022 edition – he dispatched a gauntlet of players that is among the most distinguished in championship history.
Among those who Pate defeated were a fellow future major champion (two-time U.S. Open winner Curtis Strange), the then-No. 1 amateur (George Burns), a future three-time winner on the PGA Tour (Keith Fergus), an eventual three-time USGA champion (William C. Campbell) and a player who represented the USA in two Walker Cups (Ed Tutwiler).
Time will tell whether those who Sam Bennett bested on the way to his title at Ridgewood will match the careers of the above list, but he raced through an impressive array of players in the six matches he won to hoist the Havemeyer Trophy. Runner-up Ben Carr, whom Bennett defeated, 1 up, in a dramatic finish on Sunday, was actually the lowest-ranked of those who squared off against the fifth-year player at Texas A&M.
Bennett, who entered match play as the No. 3 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR®, raised a few eyebrows when he called himself “the dog in this race” (i.e., the favorite) and intimated that the title was his to lose. Carr, who like Bennett is 22 and entering a fifth year in college (at Georgia Southern) was No. 70 in the WAGR and followed Bennett’s vanquished foes who were, in order, Nos. 13 (Nick Gabrelcik), 27 (Fred Biondi), 10 (David Puig), 9 (two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad) and 8 (Dylan Menante) in the world.
“I definitely earned this championship,” said Bennett, a two-time All-America player. “Someone from our side of the bracket definitely earned it. Beating anybody in this championship is hard, but to knock off the players I did, that’s a pretty good feat.”
Bennett – who trailed for only two holes the entire week – seized an early advantage over Carr and led, 3 up, after 18 holes. He extended the lead to 5 up midway through the afternoon round, but a couple of Bennett miscues and some Carr heroics – including a birdie on the par-5 17th – brought the match to the 36th tee. A two-putt par by Bennett – after an approach that admittedly landed much closer to the green’s edge than he intended – finally sealed the victory.
“He just stayed so poised; I think that’s the best way to describe Sam,” said Carr afterward. “He’s a very confident player – he’ll tell you. I like that. I’m close to the same way. Some of the shots he hit in the morning, just like, how am I going to beat this guy? But when I started to climb back into the match the second 18 and was able to get a couple holes off of him, he just looked so calm.”
Besides the late heroics by Carr that forced the championship match to the very end, Bennett had two other close calls en route to securing his spots in three 2023 majors: the 123rd U.S. Open at The Los Angeles Country Club, as well as the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool and a likely Masters invitation. (Bennett must remain an amateur to use his exemptions into the Masters and the Open Championship).
After leading for all but two holes, Bennett bogeyed No. 18 and went to extra holes with 2021 U.S. Amateur semifinalist and fellow All-American Gabrelcik in the Round of 64, moving on with a birdie on the 19th hole. In the semifinal round, he was tied with Menante on No. 17 and hit a poor tee shot into the high fescue. With Menante just short of the par-5 hole in two and seemingly in position to take a 1-up lead, Bennett hit a superb 7-iron shot from a fairway bunker to 12 feet and converted the birdie putt. Menante hit a mediocre pitch shot and failed to make birdie, leading to Bennett’s 1-up victory.
Bennett ended up playing 118 holes for the week, winning 37 and losing 21. His total score for those match-play holes, with the usual concessions, was 12 under over the testing A.W. Tillinghast layout, which is a composite of the three nines at Ridgewood. Carr ended up playing 129 total holes, with a 41-24 win-loss mark and a total score of 5 over in match play.
Bennett credited making his first U.S. Open, in June at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., where he was one of four amateurs to make the cut and finished in a tie for 49th, as a major step in his maturation.
“I could barely get the ball on the tee in the first couple of PGA Tour events,” said Bennett, of Madisonville, Texas, about 40 miles northeast of A&M’s College Station campus. “Playing the U.S. Open really helped playing the weekend, and it showed today. I was nervous, but I enjoyed the crowds and the people. Ben, he made it real tough. Closing out any match is tough, nevertheless the final match. I was kind of just hanging on by the edge all day, but I was somehow able to get it done.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.