Leader Blues

Friday, June 12, 2009

SPORTS >> Benton makes it two straight

Leader sportswriter

Colby Benton just concluded a pretty good week of golf.

The Cabot sophomore followed his Bruce Jenkins Memorial victory on Wednesday with the Burns Park Junior Stroke Play championship on Friday to move up near the top of the player of the year points standings.

Benton shot a three-under 68 on Thursday to surge to a five-stroke lead over fellow Cabot resident Hunter Smith, but found birdies to be few and far between on Friday and shot 74. That was good enough for a two-stroke win over Harrison’s Dylan Lovell. Smith finished in a tie for fourth after shooting 73-76 — 149.

Beebe’s Travis Weeks also finished at 149. Winston Sizemore of Pine Bluff shot a 75-73 to claim third.

“(Thursday) I hit 15 greens and hit the ball really well,” said Benton. “But today, my swing was a little off. I got off to a rough start. I had a bunch of birdies yesterday, but didn’t have many today.”

While the points for the ASGA juniors had not been updated as of press time on Friday, Benton and Smith, who entered the week atop the points totals, were both near the top in the player of the year standings.

Benton found himself four over through nine holes on Friday, but recovered one of those on the back nine. Benton’s bid for birdie on the final hole was thwarted when his chip hit the flag and bounced out, forcing him to settle for par.

“These greens are really challenging,” said Benton. “They’ve got a bunch of mounds on the greens and a bunch of undulation, so they’re really hard, and it’s always a challenge out here. I misread a bunch and missed a lot of opportunities.

“I felt good going into the round, but I thought there were going to be a couple of really good scores coming to catch me. I figured I would have to shoot around even for the day to win, but fortunately it was hard for everyone today.”

Benton is the third member of the family to make a name for himself on the Arkansas golf scene. His father, Jeff, was men’s player of the year in 2007, while Nicklaus, who won junior player of the year in 2007, currently leads the ASGA men’s standings. Nicklaus won back-to-back state match-play tournaments at Foxwood Country Club in 2007 and ’08.

“Most people would think that I wouldn’t like having to live up to my brother’s name,” said Colby. “But I actually like it a lot, because it gives me something to set goals for and someone to look up to. Someone that I can just go to and talk about my golf game, and he will help me right away.

“He knows my game better than anybody, so he can always help me. I love playing with him, because he’s such a great player, and it makes me play better. He’s a great role model for me.”

There is a long way to go in the battle for junior player of the year. Thirteen tournaments are yet to be played between now and August. But it could come down to a hometown battle between Benton and Smith, who won the Greater Little Rock Junior Tournament to start the season, and the Monticello Junior Stroke on the first weekend of June by nine strokes. Smith finished second to Benton on Wednesday at the Bruce Jenkins Memorial.

“Hunter’s a great player,” said Benton. “I’ve known him since seventh grade. We’re on the (Cabot High School) golf team together, and we play together a bunch. It’s always fun playing with him because he’s such a great player and he pushes me to score better. I’m surprised he didn’t shoot under par today.”

For Smith, the missed opportunity on Day 2 left him a little down, but certainly not out for the season. Regrouping and preparing for next week’s match play tourney at Foxwood is priority one for the 16-year-old.

“I think I’m just worn out from all these tournaments,” he said. “I’m not used to walking this much. I don’t know if I’m getting worn out or my timing is getting off when I’m coming through, I haven’t figured it out yet. I have to figure out how to get back up top. I knew I was going to have to shoot under par today, but the first three holes, when I made three bogeys, I knew it was going to be hard to get back on top after that.”