From cow pasture to PGA Tour exemption: Texas A&M's Sam Bennett takes Cabo Collegiate
SAN ANTONIO — The joke goes that the golf course Texas A&M star Sam Bennett grew up playing in the tiny town of Madisonville, Texas, (...)
SAN ANTONIO — The joke goes that the golf course Texas A&M star Sam Bennett grew up playing in the tiny town of Madisonville, Texas, is nothing but a cow pasture.
Or as one family friend following and rooting for Bennett during Wednesday’s final round of the Cabo Collegiate at TPC San Antonio’s Oaks Course insisted, “that might be giving cow pastures a bad name.”
Bennett need not worry about the conditions of the courses he’s playing these days. Thanks to a huge birdie on the 17th hole of the third and final round, the junior won the biggest tournament of his life, and with it he’ll earn an exemption into next month’s Texas Valero Open on the PGA Tour.
Bennett smiled and shook hands after holding off Oklahoma’s Garett Reband, using smart play on the back nine to finish with a 67 to earn the Tour bid. He finished the three-day event, which boasted one of the strongest fields of the year, at 5 under.
“I’ll see you guys again in a few weeks,” he said with a smile.
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Bennett said the chance to strut his stuff with the world’s best is an incredible opportunity.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “Ever since the day I was born, I’ve been wanting to play in a PGA Tour event.”
But unlike some of the others in attendance, Bennett’s past has some rural Texas flavor. The town he grew up in is well-known, but only for having a Buc-ee’s — a massive gas station/convenience store that has multiple locations throughout the state, usually midway between major cities.
Bennett’s town sits about 100 miles north of Houston and 150 southeast of Dallas, and has fewer than 5,000 residents, not to mention a lack of quality golf facilities.
“I grew up on a nine-hole course,” Bennett said. “You’re hitting off dirt, putting everything in the back of your stance. It was tough. Luckily that’s where I was able to learn the game.”
And the learning process continues. In fact, Bennett’s most recent lesson came at the 2021 Border Olympics in Laredo, Texas, just a week ago. Bennett led the event after two rounds, but a 76 on the final day dropped him out of contention. Interim Texas A&M head coach Brian Kortan said Bennett was itching to get another chance after letting that one slip away. His teammate, Dan Erickson, won the tournament and was subsequently named Golfweek’s Men’s College Golf Player of the Week.
“Sam had a chance to win that golf tournament and just made mistake after mistake. But he knew it,” Kortan said. “And he learned from it. I don’t think without that experience you’d have this one.”
Determined to avoid another blunder, Bennett lagged behind his group on two key holes in the late going — smartly laying up on the par-5 14th hole and then making a wise shot on the risk/reward No. 17 that proved to be the deciding hole.
“I was talking with coach on the par 5. I was a little too far to get there and I’d been hitting it good all day,” Bennett said. “My wedge game is my strength. Hitting a 3-wood 270 is not it.”
But don’t be fooled by Bennett’s course management. Kortan said it’s unfair to take Bennett’s heady play as a sign of passivity.
“That guy is ultra-competitive,” Kortan said. “He played all kinds of sports growing up and didn’t like to lose in any of them. He’s had a few chances to win on the bigger stages and hasn’t come through.
“But he’s learned. He’s matured. And today he handled himself great.”