Bennett, Aggies advance through postseason


After winning back-to-back NCAA Regionals for the first time in program history, the Texas A&M men's golf team earned another first as it advanced to quarterfinal match play at NCAA Championships in consecutive seasons with a seventh-place finish Monday afternoon. The Aggies, who feature Madisonville native and MHS graduate Sam Bennett, wrapped up the fourth round of stroke play at The Blessings Golf Club (par 72/7,550 yards) shooting 40-over 1,192 through four rounds (296-287-301-308), making the eight-team cut to qualify for match play for just the third time in program history. Oklahoma State, the only team to finish under par, led the stroke play field shooting 16-under 1,136. 

As of Tuesday morning, the freshman Bennett was shooting a total of 305, good for a tie at 61st in the individual standings. Just last year, Bennett secured his second state championship as a senior with the Mustangs in a season where he did not shoot over par.

Bennett earned a spot on the All-Freshman SEC team for his efforts throughout his first collegiate season.

The Aggies faced SEC-foe Vanderbilt, which finished second after shooting 15-over 1,167 in stroke play. Will Gordon and Patrick Martin led the Commodores as they were tied with Phillips in 19th.

"Fortunately we got out to a great start. I've never seen us play like that going in, giving up so many shots, but we were lucky to have a good enough cushion and were able to hold on to get in to match play," said head coach J.T. Higgins. "This was the goal all along. We are playing tomorrow and I'm ecstatic. We are going to see if we can't finish a little bit better tomorrow and keep on playing. The guys are excited and really looking forward to it. Chandler [Phillips] was our low-man all day, he did a fantastic job keeping it together. Everyone else was struggling a little bit, as a group this was our worst day, but the whole idea is to survive and advance. It's a qualifier and now everyone starts fresh. It doesn't matter what you did to get here, you're here now and it's a new game."

Senior Chandler Phillips led the Aggies as he tied for 19th after a 1-over day. Phillips shot 5-over 293 (78-70-72-73) through stroke play. Sophomore Walker Lee tied for 36th as he shot 10-over 298 (71-74-73-80) through four rounds, while junior Brandon Smith tied for 53rd at 15-over 303 (74-70-82-77). 

"We know Vanderbilt really well, we played match play against each other in the SEC Championships a couple years ago," said Higgins. "They are a great team, well coached and a very talented group. We are going to have to play some great golf against them but we are capable of giving them everything they can handle, so it should be a great match."

The two teams were the first on the course Tuesday, teeing off at 7 a.m.