Sam Bennett’s start of the 2021-22 college season showed what happens when you play already impressive golf and add consistency and patience. Texas A&M senior shot at par or better in their nine rounds in stroke play, finished twice in the top three and are No.1 in the PGA Tour University ranking enter the winter break after having occupied the first place during the last six weeks of the fall. (For good measure, he also won medalist honors at Spirit International Amateur despite being involved in a rather unusual rules incident) But his performances proved there was more to the 21-year-old than just curriculum vitae.

Bennett, who has only missed two putts inside five feet the entire semester, claims his record stems from a change in his mental play. The previous spring he had three individual victories, one of which led to a sponsor’s exemption for the 2021 Valero Texas Open. Those moments extended into the fall and made Bennett feel more. comfortable under pressure.

“Really what has helped me is being more mature, knowing how to deal with myself and my emotions on the course,” Bennett said in his Texas drawl. “I have learned over time by winning and staying in the lead, going into the last day in front or even coming from behind. You really don’t have to do anything special. You just have to make your way on the course and stay patient.

According to Aggie’s male coach Brian Kortan, Bennett’s strength in the game is rooted in his fierce love for competition. The native of Madisonville, Texas, a small town 40 miles northeast of College Station, has a sharp local swing playing a nine-hole -Down course called Fannin Oaks, which Bennett describes as making a grazing cows.

Its fire, however, comes from elsewhere.

“He’s wired a little differently than most players I’ve ever known,” Kortan said. “The calm he gets in competition – things revolve around him, but he has the ability to kind of give himself to that competition.”

Bennett’s ability to perform under pressure was tested last month at the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate, the final event of the Aggies’ fall season. Two weeks earlier, the PGA Tour announced that the top ranked player in the PGA Tour U Ranking. (which ranks senior graduates) in late fall would get a sponsor exemption for the Dubai Desert Classic 2022 on the European tour. Bennett was the only player in the top five who still had a tournament to go, so he knew exactly what he needed to do to get further into his season.

“Dubai was in my head a lot,” Bennett said. “I crossed the pond once. I never even thought of going to the Middle East. Clever play finally got Bennett a third place finish in Georgia, cap the fall season and book the trip abroad.

Bennett’s mental toughness shines through on the course, but the reality is that he has exhausted his resolve elsewhere in the past six months. In June, shortly after his junior season ended, Bennett lost his father, Mark, in a seven-year battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. During Sam’s senior year of high school, his father barely knew who he and his older brothers were.

It’s hard for Bennett to remember what his father was like before he lost the ability to communicate about a year ago; the videos help her remember healthier days. But Bennett is very keen on the last five tips he received from his father: “Don’t wait to do something.”

The phrase is tattooed on Bennett’s left forearm with his father’s handwriting, and he looks at it every day.

In the months following his tragic loss, Bennett struggled to feel any joy on the course. Disappointing tours combined with lingering grief were frustrating. “It was just a bullet in the foot,” he admitted. But over time, Bennett slowly regained his self-confidence and saw his father’s passing in a new light.

“Back when he was sick, he never really got to really watch me play golf. Now I know he’s in Heaven, smiling and watching everything I do, ”Bennett said. “He never really cared what I shot or where I finished, but he was content to be kind of a gentleman on the course and respect my fellow competitors. . He would be happier with that than with all the accomplishments that I got.

The coveted sponsor exemptions and a shelf full of trophies are now a part of Bennett’s life as a competitor. But behind it all lies another story: a kid from a small town who plays with a serious heart.