Bethesda, Md. (June 18, 2011) -- On a Saturday when red numbers filled the top of the leaderboard, amateur Brad Benjamin shot 80.
Even with the day's high score, the 24-year-old Rockford, Ill., resident wasn't ready to throw the round in the scrap pile. In this case, the worn-out "just happy to be here" saying might apply to Benjamin, who opened with 72-73 and qualified for the weekend at three over par, one stroke better than the cut.
But worn out might describe how the 2009 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion felt after playing 19 holes on Saturday.
He had one hole left on Friday evening when play was suspended due to weather and eventually darkness, so he had to return early Saturday to finish at the demanding par-4 18th. With the cut at the forefront of his conscience, he endured a restless night of sleep.
But after an adventurous route to the 18th green, he drained a 13-footer for par.
Benjamin barely had time for a quick snack and some practice before starting his third round at 11:20 a.m. So it's not surprising that he had little energy left over the closing eight holes on Saturday, where he shot 41 on the inward nine. Even with the high number, the left-handed Benjamin, playing with 2001 and '04 U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, used the round as a learning experience.
Benjamin admitted he absorbed plenty of knowledge by watching the South African.
"It seemed like a lot of the hole locations were on the edges, but even when you thought he was short-sided, he still had the grain coming toward him," said Benjamin, reflecting on Goosen's even-par 71. "I thought he left himself in really good spots. He was a little more aggressive than I am and he picks and chooses flagsticks a little better. I think a lot of that is just experience."
Like Russell Henley, who just graduated from the University of Georgia, Benjamin has delayed turning professional for a chance to play on the 2011 USA Walker Cup Team.
Four rounds at the Open tend to help one's candidacy. In addition, Benjamin's amateur schedule is filling quickly; he's planning starts at next week's Northeast Amateur, the North & South Amateur, and the Western Amateur, in addition to competing at the Illinois State Amateur and Open. He also is exempt into the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills in two months.
"I know it's not always an immediate jump from amateur golf to the PGA Tour, but my ambitions to play the mini-tours aren't there," he said. "If I can get through Q-School and play the Nationwide Tour, I'd be excited about it. Hopefully, one day I can play the PGA Tour.
"If it's between a good amateur schedule and a chance at the Walker Cup, or just trying to break even on the mini-tours, it's a no brainer for me."
The 2009 University of Memphis graduate points out that many of his best opportunities in the game have come as a result of his victory at the 2009 APL. That year, he bested favorite Nick Taylor, 7 and 6, at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club in Norman, Okla., to become only the second left-handed winner of the APL (Ralph Howe III won in 1988). Taylor was the low amateur at the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park.
"It was a big stepping stone, really. You just wonder if certain things are meant to be," Benjamin said.
The triumph earned Benjamin an invitation into the 2010 Masters, and he represented Illinois at the 2010 USGA Men's State Team Championship last fall. He qualified for his first Open with a birdie in a playoff after shooting 67-69 at a sectional held at St. Charles (Ill.) C.C.
Benjamin is used to defying the conventional approach. He's the only player in the field who plays left-handed and putts right-handed. He traces that habit to his childhood, when he practiced his putting on an 8-foot ramp that his father constructed in the family's basement.
"He only had right-handed putters, so the first club I used was a right-handed putter," Benjamin remembered. "I don't really know how I came to swing left-handed, but I know that my dad put two clubs in my hand and [asked], 'Which one feels better?' I picked the left-handed one.
"I remember my first junior set of five clubs. I pulled out the putter and thought, I can't putt with this. It's backward. So I've always putted right-handed."
Who knows? Benjamin, who throws right-handed and writes left, might've found a way to derail the McIlroy freight train on Sunday.
"I can swing OK right-handed," he said with a smile. "I'd like my chances if the field was forced to reverse sides."
-- story by Andrew Blair, the director of communications for the Virginia State Golf Association.