LONDON — England’s Warren Bennett can empathize with many athletes in the Olympic Games. He knows how hard the majority of competitors have worked, and how few rewards many have reaped from years of hard work.
That was foremost on mind as I sat and watched the first day of athletics in the Olympic stadium. There were many success stories, but for everyone who wins a medal, there are many others who will never win anything. There are athletes competing in the games who were identified as future Olympic champions, but have never come close.
Warren Bennett knows what that feels like, but he’s still hoping his dreams come true.
I have many memories of the Open Championship. Talking to Bennett was the most touching. The look on his face after he made the 36-hole cut in the Open Championship was a salutary lesson to everyone who dreams of winning major championships. The lesson: Sometimes dreams don’t come true.
Bennett was hailed as a “can’t miss kid” at the end of 1994. He’d taken the silver medal in the Open Championship at Turnberry. He was second best individual in the World Amateur Team Championship, sandwiched between Allen Doyle and a certain Tiger Woods.
Sir Michael Bonallack, then secretary of the R&A, hailed Bennett as a future major champion. However, while Woods has gone on to dominate the majors, Bennett has hardly played in any. Far from winning majors, Bennett only won once on the European Tour, the 1999 Scottish PGA Championship, since turning pro in 1994. Of the five major championships he’s played, all Open Championships, his best finish is T-40 at St Andrews in 1995. However, his T-77 at Royal Lytham this year might mean more to him than anything he’s ever done in his career.
Bennett finished 89th on the European money list the year he got his European Tour win. He was 29th in 2001 and seemed ready to live up to expectations. By 2004 he was on the European Challenge Tour and by 2009 he had given up the game.
Injuries and inability ruled him out of fulfilling Bonallack’s prophecy. Things got so bad that three years ago he turned to caddying. He was bagman for Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger on the Euro Tour for a short spell before switching to the Ladies European Tour and Trish Johnson’s bag.
However, the itch never left him.
“My goal is to get back on the Tour next year,” Bennett said. “It gives me a bit of confidence to know I can make the cut under pressure. My Open Championship goal was to make the cut.”
Bennett only played three mini-tour events before the Open Championship, and had won a grand total of just £1,233. He would have played more but couldn’t afford it. When I asked him if he did anything else to make money, he just stared blankly at me and shook his head. The look on his face was the saddest moment for me of the whole championship – it was the look of failure.
Bennett’s wife Angela is a schoolteacher and the main breadwinner. Funds are tight for them and 11-year-old son Tom. Needless to say, the £10,000 he earned at Lytham was much needed.
More importantly, his play at Lytham helps justify his decision to try to play tournament golf again. Earlier this year he sat down with Angela and told her he wanted to give tournaments another go.
“There would have been too much regret if I didn’t try to get back on Tour,” Bennett said.
Bennett will play this year’s Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles as a past winner.
“Looking at the quality of my golf this week, I can take that to the European Tour.”
Hopefully he can. Hopefully the benefit of maturity and age can help him find his own Olympian dreams.