Bringing home the gold

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He can’t legally drive a car, but Sam Bennett can drive a golf ball down the middle of a fairway and scoop up a state championship.

The Madisonville High School sophomore took home the state 4A title last week, and the Mustang team placed 10th.

Bennett is the son of Madisonville CISD Board President Mark Bennett, a local dentist, and Stacy Bennett, a Madisonville Junior High language arts teacher.

The humble teen, who also plays basketball and tennis, said it was clear from an early age that golf was his sport.

“It came naturally,” he said.

That may be because, from the age of 2, Sam was riding around in a golf cart with brothers Jake and Marcus and swinging a golf club alongside his father and grandfather.

“He had two older brothers who were good golfers,” said dad Mark Bennett. “We play as a family.”

Cousins Bryce and Trae Bennett also are strong forces on the Mustang golf team.

With some prompting, Sam admits “there’s some natural talent,” but he also thinks his laid-back style contributes to his game.

“I just go out there and I don’t think about it,” he said. “I’m free-flowing.”

He shot a 66 in the first round of the state tournament at the Onion Creek course in Austin, which was four under par.

Going into the second day of the tourney with a five-shot lead, it was windy and “there was more pressure on the line,” Bennett said. He shot a 72 that day.

“He was there last year as a freshman and came in fourth,” Mark Bennett said of his youngest son. “This year he was committed to getting it done.”

His parents and brother Marcus – who played college golf at Tyler Junior College – were there when the scores rolled in and it became clear that Sam was a champion.

“My dad is a golfer, and my grandfather is a golfer, but my brother Marcus is probably my No. 1 fan,” Bennett said.

Also present at the state tournament was MCISD Superintendent Keith Smith, who says Sam Bennett “may be the best golfer we’ve ever had.”

Smith, who used to coach golf at the high school, said he’s proud of the young man.

“It was fun for me,” Smith said. “He’s a great kid.”

Sam enjoys playing on the Jack Nicklaus course Traditions in Bryan, but says he “pretty much lives” at the Oakridge Country Club in Madisonville during the summer.

“I’m there daily after school until dark,” he said. “I practice a lot.”

Sam said he has learned a lot from Coach Jerry Hopkins, who is retiring this year.

“Coach Hop is awesome,” Sam said. “He always keeps us in a good mood. I’m going to miss him.”

“Coach Hop” said the feeling is mutual and noted that, having coached all three Bennett boys, he’s become close friends with the entire family off the golf course.

“It has been a pleasure and a privilege” to coach the MHS golf team, Hopkins said.

During his tenure at Madisonville High School, Hopkins has taken the golf team to five state championships but acknowledges there’s something special about Sam Bennett.

“Sammy’s gifted,” Hopkins said. “Since he was 8 or 9 years old, it was apparent he was a great athlete. Sam’s a competitor. He has a special talent but he also practices a lot and puts the hard work in. He’s prepared. He’s a cut above the rest.”

Even when Sam was a kid attending his brothers’ golf tournaments, his ambition was evident.

“At the end of the tournament, people would say, ‘Where’s Sam?’” Coach Hopkins recalled. “There wasn’t any doubt in my mind. He was on the practice range.”

In fact, while watching his brothers during a tournament several years ago at Traditions, an elementary-school-aged Sam took it upon himself to join a putting contest with the Texas A&M University girls’ golf team and beat them all.

Sam said he’d like to play golf in college, and has his eye on A&M, his dad’s alma mater, as well as Oklahoma State University. He loves watching professionals like Jordan Spieth and thinks maybe he’d like to take a stab at an eventual golf career.

“I’m ready to just play golf all day,” he said.

Mark Bennett noted that it will be a busy summer for Sam, who plans to play in several tournaments and will attempt to qualify for the U.S. junior tournament. He added that Sam is a good kid and a good student.

“He stays out of trouble,” Mark Bennett said. “He takes care of business.”

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