Benjamin has emotional end to the Masters

Brad Benjamin acknowledges the crowd during Round 2 of the Masters.

Brad Benjamin acknowledges the crowd during Round 2 of the Masters.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Perhaps what made Brad Benjamin’s Masters experience so emotional was that it was so tantalizing.

Before the start of Friday’s second round, the 23-year-old from Rockford, Ill., in the field by virtue of winning the U.S. Amateur Public Links a year ago, figured he needed to be 2 over par to have a chance at making the cut. With a birdie at the par-5 13th, Benjamin was at 3 over and he realized his chance to play on the weekend was within his grasp.

But what he will rue was the devastating bogey he made at the par-5 15th.

“If I had to go back and hit one shot over again,” he said, “that second shot at 15 would be it.”

After a good drive in the fairway, Benjamin and his caddie discussed the best possible spot for a lay-up, but he hit it in the right rough, in a spot where some overhanging branches made his approach more treacherous. Benjamin then put his third over the green, chipped 12 feet past the hole and missed the par putt.

If that took the wind out his sails, bogeys at the closing two holes only served to make the one at the 15th more painful.

“Two under (par) was the number I had in mind,” he said. “I didn’t know if that even had a chance, to be honest. I told my caddie coming off 16 green and going to 17 tee, ‘We need to birdie the last two.’ But asking anyone to birdie those last two holes, that’s like trying to go eagle-eagle, those holes are so difficult.”

Over two days, it wasn’t as though Benjamin didn’t have his moments of glory. After a poor drive to open the second round, he managed to get his second shot to within 40 yards of the green, then stiffed his third to an inch for a gimme par. He came up just a yard short of reaching the green in two at the par-5 second, then hit a bump-and-run to a foot for an easy birdie, his first of three on the day.

But he three-putted the par-4 third for the second straight day and then found more trouble at No. 5, where he had to play opposite-handed in order to get his drive back into the fairway and eventually carded a double-bogey 6.

“After playing this course for two days under tournament pressure, I can see why a guy like (Phil) Mickelson or even (Tiger) Woods . . . succeed out here,” said Benjamin. “You have to beat up the par 5s. That’s really your only opportunity because the par 4s and 3s are so difficult. Having a good short game around here really is everything. It wasn’t like I felt overly optimistic about my short game coming into the week, but I had some good saves yesterday and got my confidence going.”

Benjamin will hold off turning professional. Most likely, he’ll play some of the major amateur events this summer, then consider a go at Q-School in the fall.

“I don’t have anything scheduled for right now,” he said. “I plan on playing a bunch of amateur events and see where it takes me. I just don’t want to go the mini-tour route; I want to make sure I start (a potential professional career) at Q-School. I just feel like the mini-tours are too much travel for not enough money. I feel I can gain enough experience playing major amateur tournaments around the country as I could on mini-tours. I’m also exempt into sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and that’s another reason to stay amateur.

“Overall, the week has been just unforgettable. It has nothing to do with failure or success. It’s just that it’s a dream come true and you just think of all the people who helped get you here. I had so much support from the crowd all week. It’s the most fun of my life; that’s why I’m so emotional. I wish it didn’t have to end.”

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