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NCAA notes: For Texas A&M's Sam Bennett, 'just having fun' can't wait

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Sam Bennett didn’t mince words when describing the past few months. His father, Mark, died June 8 after an arduous, seven-year battle with Alzheimer’s, right before Sam, his youngest of three sons and currently a senior at Texas A&M, was set to leave for the Arnold Palmer Cup. Mark Bennett, a 53-year-old Air Force veteran and dentist, had lost his ability to communicate the previous June, but he managed to scribble out one final piece of advice for Sam, who then had the words inked on the inside of his left forearm.

Don’t wait to do something.

Following his father’s death, however, Bennett couldn’t wait to get off the golf course.

“If anything, it’s kind of made it worse,” Bennett said. “I played really bad this summer because I was getting really angry on the golf course. I’d just be playing bad and then it was like a double whammy: I’d play bad and then I’d think, dang, my dad’s dead, this f------ sucks, and I’d get more mad.”

Bennett’s Palmer Cup was a blur, but the U.S. won, and Bennett was voted by his peers to receive an exemption into next spring’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. Two days later, he was back home in Madisonville, Texas, sitting in a pew at First United Methodist Church, as his father was memorialized. Bennett didn’t play a tournament again until the Pacific Coast Amateur in late July (he tied for 23rd), and he missed cuts at both the Western and U.S. amateurs.

“I really did not enjoy being on the golf course,” Bennett said.

But as hard as the past seven years had been, Bennett knew he couldn’t let his grief justify his bad behavior any longer. Don't wait to do something. Bennett thought back to when he was a kid, and how his father never judged success by scores or results. If he could do that, perhaps his attitude would improve, too.

“All my dad cared about was me being a gentleman, respecting the game and not showing my ass,” Bennett said. “That’s helped calm me down. … I need to go out and remember why I started playing the game. Who cares if I play bad? Just have fun.”

Being back with his Aggies team members has helped. According to Texas A&M head coach Brian Kortan, Bennett is a "big-hearted kid" who loves being around his teammates. He's the quintessential team-sports guy.

"He really appreciates that he's able to lead this team and be the guy who's kind of the marked man on this team. He enjoys having that on him," Kortan said. "He wears being Sam Bennett like a bad of courage, and he should, because it hasn't all been roses for him."

Bennett admittedly still has some work to do mentally, and his homemade swing still hasn’t felt great, but he’s found a way to get the ball in the hole – and gotten more joy in doing so. In six rounds to begin the fall, Bennett has yet to shoot over par. He tied for 12th at Erin Hills before sharing third last week at Maridoe.

Kortan credits the strong start to Bennett's face control and athleticism, but most of all, it's due to his competitiveness. 

"He's able to calm himself down and play with what he's got," Kortan said. "It's a sign of him maturing. ... Sam's a very routine-driven guy. Sometimes he doesn't realize it, but the more we do regular things every day, the calmer he becomes and the more prepared he is to compete."

On the back of his three-win junior season, Bennett currently sits inside the top 10 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and second in PGA Tour University. It’s a big deal, and could set him up nicely when he turns professional, but the key for Bennett is not thinking about that stuff. Part of his anger bouts have come from him putting too much pressure on himself to remain highly ranked.

“I’ve been treating my golf like a job,” Bennett said. “Like, dang, I’m high in this ranking, I’m high in that ranking, I have to play good. And then I’d get mad if I didn’t.”

Bennett is unsure if he’ll turn pro after his senior year. He still has two years remaining in his degree path and could opt to use his extra year of eligibility. There's no doubt in Kortan's mind that Bennett is ready physically. But Bennett contends that there's more to pro golf than just hitting shots and striking putts.

“I don’t think I’m ready right now to go out there,” Bennett said, “and not only am I not ready, but I don’t know if I even want to that much.”

His tattoo may serve as a reminder to not wait, but when it comes to pro golf, that can surely hold off for now. Bennett is busy getting his mind right and trying to enjoy what could be his final season of college golf.

Just have fun; that's all that matters right now, and that's all that ever mattered to Mark Bennett.

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Sweeping success

Don't let the 71.17 scoring average fool you; Cole Hammer has had an encouraging start to his senior season.

After a summer in which he struggled mightily with the putter, Cole Hammer ditched the arm-lock method that he had started using after the NCAA Championship and decided to put a broomstick putter in the bag. It was trial by fire, as Texas began its fall campaign with back-to-back tournaments at two difficult courses, Maridoe and Olympia Fields, with the events separated by just two days.

Hammer passed his first couple of tests, tying for 11th after an opening 76 in Dallas and nearly winning in Chicago before a bogey-double bogey finish knocked him back to T-7.

"I'm proud of the way I played," Hammer said. "I felt like I've been in control of pretty much every aspect of my game."

That includes on the greens. Short misses had begun to pile up these past few months for Hammer, and after missing the cut at last month's U.S. Amateur, he dialed a friend, decorated mid-amateur Stewart Hagestad, and picked the three-time Walker Cupper's brain about using a broomstick putter, which Hagestad has succeeded with for years.

As Hagestad describes it, the broomstick method demands different motor skills, and switching to the broomstick can give struggling putters a chance to re-learn how to putt.

Hammer decided to give it a go, and the results have been positive so far. He converted some clutch putts down the stretch at Maridoe, including a birdie on his final hole with the Longhorns in a battle with Oklahoma for the win. The confidence continued to build at Olympia Fields, and despite a three-putt on the last hole there, Hammer has seen enough to keep the 44-inch putter in the bag.

"My speed was great," Hammer said. "I hit a lot of really good long putts and really good breaking putts. I was struggling with breaking putts inside of 15 feet and being able to hit my lines with the right speed, and I hit a couple of putts [these two events] that were just huge confidence boosters. ... Overall it's been an encouraging two weeks, putting-wise."

Hammer doesn't know how long he'll use the broomstick. He continues to tinker with his right-hand grip and bounce questions off of Hagestad. But as long as it's working and he's feeling comfortable over his putts, he sees no reason to hand back his Broomstick Nation membership card.

The broomstick's next test? Next month at Colonial, another tough layout with tricky greens.

PGA Tour University

Speaking of Cole Hammer, the Texas senior jumped two spots to No. 5 in the latest PGA Tour University Velocity Global Ranking. Here is the current top 15:

1. Pierceson Coody, Texas
2. Sam Bennett, Texas A&M
3. Logan McAllister, Oklahoma
4. Ryan Hall, South Carolina
5. Cole Hammer, Texas
6. Eugenio Chacarra, Oklahoma State
7. Alex Fitzpatrick, Wake Forest
8. Sandy Scott, Texas Tech
9. Noah Goodwin, SMU
10. Jacob Bridgeman, Clemson
11. Jackson Suber, Ole Miss
12. Trent Phillips, Georgia
13. Joe Highsmith, Pepperdine
14. Joey Vrzich, Pepperdine
15. RJ Manke, Washington

For full ranking, click here.