Stew Hagestad and Sam Bennett (Credit: USGA)
There was a Daniel Boone in this year's U.S. Amateur field, but Sam Bennett
is the one doing the big game hunting. In the quarterfinals at Ridgewood CC on Friday, Bennett added another pelt to his growing collection, taking down Stewart Hagestad
, the 2-time U.S. Mid Amateur champion.
It was a bit touch-and-go in his match against Hagestad. Both players found themselves in tough spots off the tee and around the greens, but Bennett rode a hot putter to continue onto the semis with a 3&2 win.
"Me and Coach got to do a little work on the range. Swing wasn't quite there today," Bennett said. "The putter has continued to stay hot. I'm feeling confident on the greens. I'm liking where I'm at."
The path to a championship is supposed to be difficult, and Bennett seems to be relishing the opportunity to knock off so many players in the top of the amateur game.
"That's why we play. That's why we tee it up. Trying to win golf tournaments, trying to win matches, that's why we do what we do. It's fun. You've got to enjoy it," Bennett said. "If you get nervous, so what, that's why we do it. You should enjoy the moment."
The week is long and grueling, and Bennett is drawing off playing other sports growing up.
"It's a physical battle as well as a mental battle. I played other sports growing up, basketball, tennis. I was a pretty stud athlete, not going to lie," Bennett said. "I think that brings out the competitiveness in me. I like to win. I think I like to win a little bit more than others do."
Hagestad was impressed with the fifth-year senior from Texas A&M.
“He's just really, really good at golf,” said Hagestad. “He's got a lot of self-belief, and I think he's got a good mentality for match play….and ready to go all 12 rounds from the first tee on.”
Bennett's side of the bracket is stacked, and Dylan Menante
awaits in the semi-final. The former Pepperdine Wave who just transferred to the University of North Carolina found himself 2 down in his match against Nicholas Gross
It was a struggle to get off the tee early in the round.
"Yeah, the start was not the best. I had a good range session with my irons, but 3 wood and driver were just awful," Menante said. "I hit 3-wood off the first tee, and that wasn't the best. Kind of duffed that second shot and wasn't really a good start."
After holstering his 3 wood, Menante found something in his swing and won hole Nos. 5-8 to swing the match and grab a 2-up lead. He extended his lead to 3 up after the 10th hole and closed out the 15-year-old Gross 4&3.
Menante has never made match play in the U.S. Amateur, but he has been playing some of the best golf of his life these past few months. He won the Western Intercollegiate and set the Elite Amateur Series on fire when he lapped the field in the Northeast Amateur in June.
New Tar Heel Dylan Menante (Credit: USGA)
The freshly minted Tar Heel, wearing his new college logo and Carolina blue golf bag, knows that the mental side of the game is where he still needs to grow.
"The physical ability is there, but the mental ability to grit and persevere is not there. It's growing. Still got work to do, but it's there."
The Bennett-Menante match-up is a delicious one. Ever the competitor, Bennett wants to make sure that their side of the draw wins the Havemeyer Trophy.
"Me and Stew were talking about someone from our side needs to win because our side of the bracket has had a pretty tough draw, not just me, some other people," Bennett said.
and Ben Carr
will be doing battle on the other side of the bracket after their quarterfinal victories.
Carr dispatched Division III Cinderella Alex Price
2&1. Carr said he loves playing the course even though he's a long way from home in Georgia, so is his caddie, who is from Alabama.
"Two guys from Alabama and Georgia, just up here in New Jersey, almost like a foreign country, just having a good time on the golf course," Carr said.
Willy Wilcox, his caddie, is doing more than just having fun through. Carr credits Willie, who has professional experience on the PGA Tour and in the 2011 U.S. Open, with helping him reach the semi-finals.
Derek Hitchner and Shea Lague (Credit: USGA)
"Anything that goes with being a good caddie, he's got it. He keeps me grounded. He's a great green reader, good with numbers, good decision maker," Carr said.
Carr birdied the first and fourth holes for an early 2 up lead. He continued to pour the pressure on Price. By the turn, Carr was 4 up, and looking rather comfortable. Price, on the other hand, was battling a bit of back pain. It didn't stop the Christopher Newport star from battling back in the match.
Price chipped away and on the 16th tee was just 1 down. The pair both parred the 16th hole, but Price's ball just trickled into the first cut on the 17th tee and his lay up on the par 5 crossed the fairway into longer rough. Carr countered with a birdie and a 2&1 win.
The final member into the final four is Derek Hitchner is will try to become the first playoff survivor to win the U.S. Amateur since Doc Redman won at Riviera in 2017 as the 62 seed.
He's not terribly worried about seeding though.
“I think seeding is irrelevant, just with how bunched the scoring was [in stroke play]. Everyone was playing well to get to this position," Hitchner said. "Obviously, there are many players that are extremely, extremely good. Whoever is on their game at this point is good enough to win, and I feel like I'm hopefully part of that.”
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Hitchner did his work in the middle of the round. After falling behind 1 down to Shea Lague
, the envy of every bald man on the planet, he ran off wins on holes Nos. 5, 7, 9, and 11.
Lague hit a phenomenal shot into the drivable 12th hole, but after Hitchner rolled home his birdie putt, Lague's 4-foot eagle try slid past the cup, and he couldn't make any headway and lost 3&2.
The irresistible storyline would be Hitchner and Menante meeting in the final. They were college teammates at Pepperdine, and Hitchner has the Waves coach, Michael Beard, on the bag.
Everyone knows that Sam Bennett and Ben Carr will have something to say about that prospective Pepperdine final.