USA gold rush at The Spirit: Bennett and Zhang win individual
The Spirit boasts five concurrent events, and today’s festivities at Whispering Pines highlighted the benefits of the novel format. While some events were decided early, others stirred up competitive and patriotic flair. Battles for medals played out across the events, a hole-in-one along with penalty shots played a role in the final results.

As the teams arrived for the final round, the US was in the driver’s seat for the gold medal in the team competition, leading Canada by five shots. The team spirit was high for the American's, so much so that James Piot put an American flag temporary tattoo on his cheek in hopes of bouncing back after a tough second round.

Whatever the Americans did, their birdie barrage continued in round three. The course was playing harder and faster than at any point during the week, but the United States took their five shot cushion and made it a stunning 21 shots. In the end, the USA finished 28 under, Canada finished in second and Sweden took third at 6 under.

Noémie Pare's ace on the eighth hole might have proven the difference between bronze and silver.

Leaderboards: Overall Country | Men's Team | Men's Individual | Women's Team | Women's Individual

In the men’s individual event, Sam Bennett was buzzing following his second round 68 in his home state of Texas. He sat just three shots behind Canada’s Johnny Travale. Bennett and Travale would be playing their third straight round together, so they’d be able to keep an eye on each other.

However, Bennett didn’t keep too close of an eye on his bag before teeing off. When he reached into his bag for his 60 degree wedge he noticed teammate Rachel Heck's 58 degree wedge among his clubs. That extra club put him at 15 clubs. A two stroke penalty was assessed, and Bennett took a double bogey on his opening hole.

How did Bennett react?

“I told myself stay patient, and just get to even par through five because you have two par fives on that stretch and I was able to do that,” Bennett said. “And then I was off and running.”

Any clue how the club got into the bag?

“I don’t know if I put Rachel’s 58 in there or she did, but it doesn’t matter,” Bennett said.

Sam Bennett on No. 18 at Whispering Pines (Sean Melia photo)

For Bennett, it didn’t matter. He clawed his way back into contention making seven birdies in his next fourteen holes. By the eleventh hole, Bennett was in the lead alone, but Travale bounced back and pulled even with Bennett at 6 under as they stood on the fourteenth tee. Travale’s three bogies on his closing holes left with him a bronze medal after a 3 under finish.

With a very quiet and steady week, Hugo Townsend found himself with a silver medal, finishing one shot better than Travale after a final round 69.

“I’ve been really solid off the tee and been playing pretty smart,” Townsend said after his round. “Some of these flags are pretty tough, so I’ve just been hitting a lot of shots to 20 feet, when you get a chance for birdie you try and take it. But if not, you just grind on. It’s tough out here.”

On the women’s side, Rose Zhang, ever the consistent, steady operator, had her own club mix-up. She realized on the first tee that she had left her pitching wedge on the chipping green. After a bit of a scramble, they found the wedge and returned it to Zhang. There is no penalty for adding a club mid-round, so she teed off and the wedge was delivered before she finished the first hole.

One of many "birdie waves" for Rose Zhang this week (Sean Melia photo)
It didn’t seem to rattle Zhang, as she shot a bogey-free 69, making her the only player in the field to shoot every round this week in the 60s. Zhang’s neck was weighed down with three gold medals at the end of the week. A stellar performance from the wunderkind.

“It was so special,” Zhang said about her wins. “Especially with Stacey Lewis as captain and my teammates cheering everyone on. It’s just truly a great event to be at, and when I first got invited to this event, I couldn’t wait to represent my country. Being able to win with them is truly special.”

While the final result in the women’s individual shows that Zhang had a comfortable three shot win, in the middle of the round, as Zhang hung around even par for her day, Caroline Strudza made a bit of a run. She was one behind Zhang as she played the par-five twelfth, but a bogey, after her third shot clipped a three, made the uphill climb too steep. Unfortunately, Sturdza finished the tournament at 2 under. An 8 on her final hole dropped her from winning a silver medal to T5.

The other medal winners were Mexico’s Isabella Fierro and Canada’s Savannah Grewal. Fierro’s back nine scores from rounds two and three were sublime. A 31 yesterday was backed up by a 32 today. That made all the difference, as she nabbed the silver by two shots over Grewal. Grewal was steady all week only carding three bogeys and rounds of 71-69-71.

The combined men’s event is where Bennett’s two stroke penalty hurt team USA. They finished one shot behind gold medal winners Sweden, causing the USA to miss a gold medal clean sweep.

On the seventeenth hole, Sam Bennett’s chip hit the pin and rested right on the edge of the cup. After a bit of wandering around, hoping the ball would fall, Bennett relented and nudged the ball in with his wedge. Piot had about three feet for birdie but missed it on the low side.

Canada might also have some things keeping them up at night. As Henry Lee and Travale made four bogeys in the last four holes. To add insult to injury, they both bogeyed the final hole.

Ultimately, with four birdies in their final five holes, the Swedes Townsend and Albin Bergstrom went out to took the gold medal. An impressive finish. Sweden leaves The Spirit with their first two medals in the event.

The combined women’s event was a runaway for the United States. Their score of 12 under was seven shots clear of silver medalists Switzerland. France rounded out the top three at 1 over.

Zhang made sure to call out Heck’s partnership during the week. After a tough opening 78, Heck hung in there, even as a cold and cough slowed her down. She played exceptional golf, firing rounds of 69 and 67 to close out The Spirit.

“She’s absolutely amazing. She’s battling her sickness and she was constantly grinding and I really pay mad respect to her,” Zhang said. “As her teammate I’m super lucky to have her by my side and even if she wasn’t playing the best, she was the best to be around. We all had good vibes.”

As they crossed the stone bridge to the 18th hole, the duo held an American flag between them. A fitting end to an event that saw team USA capture gold medals in four of the five events.

Results: The Spirit International Amateur
1TXSam BennettMadisonville, TX100073-68-69=210
2SwedenHugo TownsendSweden70073-70-69=212
3CanadaJohnny TravaleCanada50067-71-75=213
T4South AfricaChristo LamprechtSouth Africa50071-75-68=214
T4ArgentinaSegundo Oliva PintoArgentina50073-72-69=214

View full results for The Spirit International Amateur

ABOUT THE The Spirit International Amateur

The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship is world class golf event played every other year. It features the world’s best amateur men and amateur women golfers as they represent their respective country in team and individual competitions. The 96 participants enjoy an Olympic-like experience from the Opening/Closing Ceremonies, international village and competing for gold medals.

The World Health & Golf Association and Texas Golf Association invite 24 countries from six continents to participate. Established in 2001, The Spirit is a biennial event that alternates tournament years with the World Amateur Team Championships.

Part of the uniqueness of the Spirit International are the five simultaneous competitions: Combined International Championship, Men’s Team Championship, Women’s Team Championship, Men’s Individual and Women’s Individual.

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