Sam Bennett, Gordon Sargent back in Georgia, and back to college
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Written by Jordan Perez @jrdnprz
Sam Bennett and Gordon Sargent had very different outings the last time they were in Georgia. But just two short weeks after the Masters, both return to the Peach State with very similar goals.
All eyes are on Sargent to lead two-time defending champion Vanderbilt to a third consecutive SEC Championship — and for Bennett to capture that glory for the first time at Sea Island Golf Club, which also plays host to the RSM Classic.
A six-win season has kept Vanderbilt atop college golf all year, and Sargent’s resilience in their most recent win at the Mason Rudolph Championship has earned him every right to remain in the conversation. A 7-shot individual victory and a 23-shot team title quickly wiped away any hard feelings away from his Masters finish, where he fell 7 shots outside the cut line. Rather, it was returning to school with plenty of notes that inspired a newfound approach.
“They didn’t get out of position, they kind of kept (the ball) in front of them,” Sargent said, referencing the discipline he witnessed from playing aside Jason Day and former Masters champion Zach Johnson. “After that, I kind of tried to adopt the same mindset.”
On the contrary, Bennett, the Masters low amateur after a T16 finish, acknowledges the expectations following his week are at an all-time-high – but he’s more than ready. Bennett’s Masters week captured plenty of glory and new fans as he made the cut with ease after shooting 68-68. That earned him a spot in the final group of the third round, which extended into Sunday because of weather delays.
“I drew a lot of confidence from the U.S. Amateur at Ridgewood,” he said. “In these big-time tournaments, I’m able to blackout in a way and get so locked in. That’s what I’m trying to focus on this week at conference – just getting as locked in as I was for the big ones.”
Ranked No. 4 in the PGA TOUR University rankings, Bennett’s success at Augusta National allowed him to jump two spots into a coveted top-five position.
“That’s where I wanna stay at,” Bennett says. “I didn’t like seeing my name in the sixth spot.”
The Aggies have been victorious four times this season, and they return to SECs determined to benefit from that momentum. Bennett will make his first collegiate start since the Masters with a tall task — securing Texas A&M’s first-ever conference title. Despite his career week, he feels his experience re-centered his focus on college golf. Much of his preparation earlier in the year was attached to the biggest moment of his career at the Masters. The five-time collegiate champ admits he hasn’t played his best college golf this year – but that an SEC ring would “top off what I want to accomplish in my college career.” Even better would be Texas A&M’s second national title, a high priority since he declared using his final year of eligibility.
And though the two may be years apart, the implications of their seasons have plenty of personal overlap. For Bennett, it’s indeed maintaining that top-five position and earning himself a coveted exemption into the final stage of Q-School. For the sophomore Sargent, it’s fully capitalizing on his rapid ascendance. Currently, he leads the PGA TOUR University Accelerated list with 13 points and is on watch lists for both the Haskins Award and the Hogan Award. Notching both would have him just one point shy of the 20 points needed to achieve PGA TOUR membership, a year ahead of the three-year deadline.
“Obviously, it’s in the back of my mind. It’s a really big step to get those 20 points,” Sargent said. “But I think if we have team success, we’re gonna have some individual success to go with that.” While Sargent captured the glory as the NCAA individual champion in 2022, the Commodores fell to eventual champion Texas in the semifinals – something Sargent hopes to remedy this time around.
For now, defending and achieving conference glory remain top of mind for both players – who once again find themselves in a similarly elite field at a highly favored stop for both. But among the saltmarshes cradled in the gorgeous Fazio design is the chance to add another chapter to already storied personal and program legacies.