Sam Bennett validates decision to turn down Genesis invite with 61-capped win

Sam Bennett validates decision to turn down Genesis invite with 61-capped win
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Sam Bennett could’ve been teeing it up against the likes of Jon Rahm, Max Homa and Tiger Woods this week at Riviera Country Club.

Instead, The Texas A&M senior watched Saturday’s television coverage from Lihue, Hawaii.

As the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, Bennett was extended a sponsor exemption into the Genesis Invitational. But Bennett, who decided to return to Aggieland for a fifth year because he wanted to graduate and he loved his team so much, passed on the invite.

Like returning to school over turning pro, it was an easy decision.

And it paid off, as Bennett captured his fifth career college victory Friday at the John Burns Intercollegiate.

“My sole focus is A&M,” Bennett said Saturday evening over the phone, “and I want to focus on these college events and PGA Tour U (Bennett is fourth in those rankings) and do what I can. Plus, coming to Hawaii with my best friends and team that I’ve been with for five years on a free trip playing a college golf tournament, that’s pretty cool.” 

So, too, is shooting your best round.

Bennett has a 55 on his resume, but that came at his local nine-holer in Madisonville, Texas. On Friday, he earned a share of co-medalist honors with Cal’s Sampson Zheng with a final-round, 11-under 61. With ball in hand and little wind on a scorable layout, Bennett knew he needed to take advantage of the three front-nine par-5s at Hokuala’s Ocean Course, and he did. But that wasn’t all; he birdied seven of his first eight holes before adding four more on the back.

Perhaps most impressively, Bennett said those 11 birdies were “pretty much all kick-ins.”

“It was pretty ridiculous,” Bennett added.

Bennett’s T-1 followed his spring-opening T-6 at the Arizona Intercollegiate, which marked his first competitive tournament since October. Bennett didn’t have the best fall, finishing outside the top 15 in three of four starts; the other start was a solo fourth at The Blessings.

Needing a break following a busy post-U.S. Amateur stretch, Bennett barely practiced during the winter break. He didn’t log any tournaments, either, but he did play golf. Bennett joined his roommates, who aren’t on the golf team but love the game, for a handful of recreational rounds.

“Playing with them, making a bunch of birdies recreationally and shooting 65, 66 on a regular basis, I feel like that gave me some momentum,” Bennett said.

The Aggies, who sat ninth in the Golfstat rankings before a third-place finish at the Burns, will surely need Bennett’s best if they hope to make a run at an NCAA Championship later this spring. Bennett doesn’t plan on letting them down; not only did he skip the Genesis, but he also passed on invites into the Arnold Palmer Invitational and RBC Heritage.

He will only play the Masters, which ends a day before Texas A&M’s home event, the Aggie Invitational, which is the team’s last tournament before the SEC Championship.

Bennett already feels more prepared for the professional game now than he was last summer. He’s hitting the gym more, adding strength and speed. He’s become a better planner and developed a routine. And he’s improved mentally with help from his sports psychologist. Bennett’s current motto is “live in the moment,” and he shared a recent story about how he was rushing to do laundry before taking a step back.

“I was folding and hanging up clothes like crazy, and I thought to myself, This is the only thing I have to do right now,” Bennett recalled. “So, I turned on some music and took my time folding clothes. Really staying patient and staying in the moment has helped me.”

The pro ranks can wait a few more months; Bennett’s having too much fun right now.

In Hawaii, the Aggies have further bonded over pool volleyball, disc golf, good meals and a trip to Mount Wai’ale’ale.

“I’ve been to the Grand Canyon,” Bennett said. “I think this was cooler.”

Just one of many moments that validated Bennett’s decision.

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