Fitting Finale at 122nd U.S. Amateur

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Bennett holds off hard charging Carr
Posted on
August 22, 2022
by
The Editorial Team in
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

122nd US Amateur finale

122nd US Amateur finale
Ridgewood Country Club. (Copyright USGA/Fred Vuich)

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes


PARAMUS, NJ. One of the hardest dimensions in championship golf is being labeled a "favorite" and then having to play up to the expectations that entails. 

This 122nd edition of the U.S. Amateur Championship had 18 of the world's top 20 players competing with Ridgewood CC and Arcola CC serving as co-hosts for the event.


122nd US Amateur finale

The unpredictability of match play had a number of key players depart right from the outset. The number one seed after 36-holes of stroke play Luke Gutschewski lost in extra holes -- the same happening to NCAA golf champion Gordon Sargent who also lost in extra holes.

The number five seed Michael Thorbjornsen, the 2018 U.S. Junior Champion, also lost in the first round. 

The same fate could very well have happened for Sam Bennett -- ranked the No. 3 player int he World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR® -- the 5th year senior at Texas A&M used that close call to his advantage in later matches. In the championship -- Bennett would eventually overcome the 13th, 27th, 10th, 9th and 8th players in the WAGR. This past June -- Bennett played 72 holes in the U.S. Open at The Country Club -- tied for 49th.

122nd US Amateur finale
Sam Bennett holds the Havemeyer trophy. (John Mummert/USGA)

122nd US Amateur finale

The 22-year-old survived a semi-final match against Dylan Menante -- birdieing the par-5 17th after his tee shot was nearly up against a tree. Bennett would then play the 18th flawlessly with an airtight par -- producing a 1-up win.

That match provided a clear boost and he used it throughout the balance of the event -- capturing the illustrious Havemeyer Trophy with a 1-up victory margin over a hard-charging Ben Carr in the final match.

Bennett played solidly in the morning 18 -- fashioning a 3-up margin. That gap would widen to 5-up early in the second 18 -- but Carr's motor started revving up with 60-foot birdies at the 6th and 7th holes respectively via a putt and chip in and bringing the match into a different focus. 


122nd US Amateur finale

The key for the Columbus, GA native was keeping that momentum going forward. Bennett never flinched -- grabbing a 3-up lead with six holes to play -- courtesy of a Carr missed 3-foot par putt.

At the par-5 13th -- the 31st hole of the match - Carr squandered a major opportunity when Bennett's 2nd shot flew out-of-bounds. Inexplicably, Carr would do likewise and both players would tie the hole.

Still fighting to keep things going -- Carr holed a difficult seven foot for par on the treacherous 14th green and his tenacity paid off when Bennett three-putted -- missing from 2 1/2 feet for par.

With the margin reduced to two -- the par-3 15th proved critical. Carr played his approach on the 161-yard hole to 14 feet. After Bennett two-putted for par -- the Georgia Southern had a golden opportunity to narrow the margin to one hole. He missed.

122nd US Amateur finale
Ben Carr. (Grant Halverson/USGA)

122nd US Amateur finale

Both players parred the par-416th and when they reached the penultimate hole Bennett was dormie -- up as many holes as left in regulation play.

At the par-5 17th Carr played a bold tee shot up the left side and attempted to reach the hole in two shots. His second was pulled into one of the fronting bunkers. After Bennett played his 3rd shot to 12-feet. Carr successfully escaped the bunker leaving himself 15-feet. In order for the match to head to the 18th -- Carr would need to hole his putt and Bennett would need to miss. Both happened.

With the crowd of 2,000 buzzing, it was Carr who had the honor on the tee shot. He pushed it slightly right amongst the towering trees on the 461-yard dog-leg right 18th hole. Bennett, just as he had done in his semi-final win against Menante played the hole flawlessly. Splitting the fairway and his 8-iron approach from roughly 175 yards finding the left side of the green. With Bennett no more than 15 feet from the hole, Carr needed to find the green. His punch shot bounded slightly over the left rear of the green. Needing to chip in to have any hope in extending the match his shot came up 12 feet short. Bennett's birdie attempt nearly missed and the match was over with both players embracing one another.

“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 (Bennett) just looked so calm."

122nd US Amateur finale

While the players hail from different parts of the country, they shared a bond on Sunday -- each losing 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.

His comments following the match summarized matters succinctly --

“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.”

Match play is ever so unpredictable -- tides can turn quickly -- momentum can both evaporate and appear.

Arcola Country Club. (Kathryn Riley/USGA)

122nd US Amateur finale

Bennett will remain an amateur at least through the 2023 NCAA championships. After that the pathway into professional golf awaits. Likely the same direction to professional golf will be followed by Carr.

Bennett admitted that after a long week of amateur golf at the highest of levels he demonstrated both skill and blessings from above.

"The golfing gods, I guess, were with me," said Bennett.

They certainly were.

***

Odds & Ends 

Since 1979 the USGA has followed the same format for the premier championship in amateur golf. That has meant 36-hole of on-site qualifying for the entire field -- including the defending champion if the player has opted to remain an amateur. The field of 300+ is then reduced to 64 for match play with six matches to follow -- culminating with a 36-hole scheduled final match. 

The main issue with that format is that it can mean pre-event favorites are left to the vagaries of match play in the early rounds and this can diminish the impact these players have on the event.

The event at Ridgewood saw several key players eliminated in the 1st round and nearly claimed winner Bennett as he needed 19 holes to advance past his first match.

It would behoove the USGA to follow the format used by the Western Golf Association (WGA) for its amateur championship. That event provides for a 72-hole on-site tournament for the entire field and then reducing those heading to match play for 16.

The finalists Sam Bennett, left, and Ben Carr pose with the Havemeyer trophy before starting the final match. (Grant Halverson/USGA)

122nd US Amateur finale

Tweaking the existing format would still provide for 36-holes to be played by the entire field of 300+ players with a cut implemented at either the top 72 or even 100 players. Those remaining would then play 36 additional holes at stroke play with another cut following the 3rd round. That number could be reduced to 50 or 60 players battling it out in the final stroke play round to secure one of the 16 available match play slots available.

Expanding the role of stroke play would bring to the forefront the skillset of the most accomplished players in the field. 

Recalibrating the format would be a better showcasing of the talent that the best of the best players have shown throughout the lead-up to a US Amateur Championship.

Match play is still the optimum manner to finalize matters once the field reaches the "sweet 16" and there's no question that upsets can and will still happen. However, as the WGA has shown with its flagship amateur championship having a 72-hole stroke play event prior to that happening would likely raise the likelihood that those players reaching the match-play format are thoroughly vetted when entering the match play portion.

***

Weather for the championship was exceptional - the lone blight coming during the semi-finals which were played Saturday. The main issue that could have negatively impacted the event was a late start-time for the two matches.

The plan was for those two matches to start at 2:10 and 2:20 PM respectively. Unfortunately, a persistent rain fell over Paramus and the matches were postponed. The restart did not happen until 3:40 PM. This new time placed the matches in a difficult position in finishing before sunlight vanished.

The Bennett / Menante match went the full distance and barely concluded before darkness. Fortunately, the Carr / Hitchner match concluded a few holes sooner.


122nd US Amateur finale

Getting the matches "live" on Golf Channel was the primary reason but the essence of the championship could have been upended if any of the two matches had to be held over to the next day -- when 36-holes were already planned. This could have meant the final two players having to play an extraordinary number of holes on the final day.

What's interesting is that quarterfinal play concluded play at roughly 2-3 PM. on Friday. There was no need to hold the semi-finals that late on Saturday when playing earlier -- 10-11 AM -- would have been available. Yes, the "live" nature of the matches could have become an issue for Golf Channel's schedule of events that day but a taping would still have worked without bringing into bear what actually happened.

Amateur golf is never going to secure high television ratings -- especially when going head-to-head with a FedEx Cup playoff event -- the BMW Championship was being played in Wilmington the same week.

Sports organizations of all types are eager to secure television involvement and scheduling can prove to be a difficult situation on all fronts. But the essence of the championship should not be compromised and, more importantly, the players involved should not be moved like chess board pieces given the hard work demonstrated to get into a position they may never be able to return to in their golf career.


122nd US Amateur finale

***

During the award ceremony a clear faux pas happened in not highlighting the involvement of Arcola Country Club. The club co-hosted the 36-hole on-site stroke play qualifying and was the first prominent national exposure for the club. The reactions were overwhelmingly positive from players and officials.

How strong did Arcola play? The stroke average for the two-rounds played was 75.247. A likely future host role for other national events is now on the radar screen -- the club hosts the prestigious 2023 MGA Open.  

***

J. Stuart "Stu" Francis -- President of the USGA (Coutesy of the USGA)

122nd US Amateur finale

J. Stuart "Stu" Francis -- President of the USGA, presented Sam Bennett with the Havemeyer Trophy and his intersection with Ridgewood CC dates back to 1974 -- when he competed in the U.S. Amateur then.

Interestingly, Ridgewood member David Repetto -- who caddied in the 1974 U.S. Amateur made it his mission to get back in touch with all the competitors who played in that event. He eventually tracked down 175 of the 200 players. A luncheon was held during the championship and roughly 50 came to Ridgewood to commemorate their participation.  

In attendance at the luncheon was 1974 Amateur champion Jerry Pate who would claim the 1976 U.S. Open title two years later. Past and present intersecting together. 


122nd US Amateur finale

***

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)

***

Next year's U.S, Amateur?

The event heads west to Cherry Hills CC, Cherry Hills Village, CO -- just outside of Denver (August 14-20). Cherry Hills has hosted three U.S. Opens, two PGA Championships and various other USGA events -- including the U.S. Amateur in 1990 and 2012.

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About The Editorial Team

The editorial team at Golf Today strives to provide readers with captivating content that celebrates the rich heritage and exciting developments in the world of golf. Their collective expertise and dedication ensure that Golf Today remains a premier destination for golf enthusiasts seeking the latest news, insightful analysis, and engaging stories from the world of golf.

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