MARSHALL – In sports, there are certain ways to measure how good a player is. In golf, one of those measuring sticks is to qualify for the US Amateur Championship.
Last week, 2014 Marshall High School graduate Matt Bennett did just that with a two-day score of 147 in the US Amateur Sectional Qualifier at Dacotah Ridge Golf Club in Morton.
He tied for second place in the event and now advances to the US Amateur Championship, which will be held August 15-21 at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
“Going into qualifying, I was really hoping I could play to my best, but I was not sure if that would be good enough or not,” Bennett said. “Qualifying for the US Am just reassures me that my game is good enough to play at the top level of amateur golf and hopefully one day at the professional level.”
He started out the qualifier strong, carding a 4-under 68 in Round 1. That score was the best round of the tournament.
“I played really steady,” Bennett said. “I kept my shots out of trouble and was able to get up and down when I needed to. I was able to take advantage of my length by having short wedges into greens rather than an 8- or 9-iron like some of my playing competitors.”
He found some trouble in the second round, which included going into the water on back-to-back holes in the middle of the round. Bennett finished with a 4-over par 76.
It was words from his caddy, Jacob Baker, that helped him recover from the rough stretch.
“After going in the water twice, I was a little nervous at that point and I didn’t think I had much of a chance,” Bennett told MNgolf.org. “My caddy reminded me that I had the lead and that the course is playing harder and the scores were going to be higher, so he really helped calm me down.”
Bennett’s 76 put him in a tie for second place and as one of the three golfers who qualified for the US Amateur Championship. The fourth-place finisher was just one stroke behind Bennett.
Bennett will have a different caddy for the championship – his father Steve.
“My dad has caddied for me in other tournaments over the years and I think he is looking forward to it, as am I,” Bennett said.
The tournament will begin with two rounds of stroke play on Monday and Tuesday. The field narrows to 64 golfers on Wednesday and the tournament shifts from stroke play to match play.
Bennett hopes he can advance past the match play portion of the tournament.
“My goal is to hopefully make the first round of match play,” he said. “I feel like my game is good enough to reach the match play portion, and potentially even win a match or two.”
The course will present new challenges for Bennett. Along with the speed of the greens, he said the biggest adjustment will be the course’s length.
“Marshall (Golf Club) from the back tees is only about 6,600 yards, but Oakland Hills can stretch to a whopping 7,445 from the back tees,” Bennett said. “During the tournament, I will have a lot longer shots into the greens so learning how much my approach shots will release once landing on the green will be a big factor.”
Match play will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 from Wednesday through Friday. Coverage will go from 2 to 5 p.m. each day.
On Saturday and Sunday, the coverage will shift to Fox for the semifinal and championship matches during the same time slot.
Earlier matches on Thursday and Sunday will be streamed online at USGA.org.
A part of history
Golfing at Oakland Hills Country Club and in the US Amateur Championship puts Bennett alongside a list of legends. Past course champions include Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan.
“It is an amazing feeling to think of all the great names who have played in the US Am,” Bennett said. “Nearly all of the best players to ever have played the game have played in the US Am. Oakland Hills has hosted the most prestigious tournaments in the US for nearly 100 years now and I am ecstatic to play it for the first time in a couple of weeks.”