Texas A&M golf coach J.T. Higgins has described senior Chandler Phillips as one of a kind.
He might get an argument from Phillips now that freshman Sam Bennett is teeing it up with the Aggies.
“I’ve told people he’s the splitting image of me,” Phillips said. “We grew up in small towns, didn’t grow up playing on some nice golf course, literally grew up playing on the same type of golf course, a little nine-hole course and stuff like that. So when we get to go to the places we go, we are like, ‘This place is awesome,’ and we are going to take full advantage of it go out there and have fun.”
Phillips and Bennett hope to make the NCAA Pullman Regional another one of those positive experiences when they play at Palouse Ridge from Monday through Wednesday. The top five teams in the 16-team field will move onto the national championship in Fayetteville, Arkansas, starting on May 24.
There are more similarities to the two than the appreciation of a good course. Both are from smaller towns within 50 miles of Texas A&M, with Phillips having graduated from Huntsville and Bennett from Madisonville.
“They are almost the same socially, attitude-wise,” Higgins said. “They play very similar games. Both are shot-makers, can work it both ways, flight it high and low. Neither one of them are going to overpower a golf course, but they hit it plenty far for their size, and they keep it in play. And from there, they can attack when they have wedges in their hand. Neither one of them are long, and they are our best par-5 players because they are good wedge players. They just know how to score.”
The two, neither of whom is taller than 5-foot-10, paired together well in the Southeastern Conference tournament, helping the Aggies to a No. 3 seed after 54 holes of stroke play before losing 3-2 to Arkansas in the semifinals of match play.
Bennett defeated Tyson Reeder, an All-American from Arkansas, and took the player Higgins said will be the freshman of the year, Georgia’s Trent Williams, to the 18th hole.
“That was the funnest I’ve had, not just in golf, but in life,” Bennett said. “Just to experience the SEC championship, it had a different atmosphere than the other tournaments. Being the athlete like I am, I like being under pressure, and I was pretty nervous, but I enjoyed the pressure.”
Phillips has played in 48 tournaments for the Aggies, claiming All-America honors as a sophomore and junior. Bennett stepped on campus and immediately was among the five that traveled to tournaments. He’s been to nine events and only once was it at a course he had played previously.
“Being from Madisonville, my traveling was going out to the lake and fishing,” Bennett said. “We are a lot alike, talk a lot about hunting, hog hunting and all that, so yeah, we are pretty much the same.”
Phillips leads the team with a 70.08 scoring average and Bennett is second at 71.67.
We have pretty much the same kind of game, we don’t hit it a long ways, we just putt and chip really good, and score,” Phillips said. That’s the way people describe us.”
NOTES — The Palouse Ridge is a links-type course, which, like many links courses, depends on the wind for its defenses. “I really hope the wind blows,” Bennett said. “I feel like my game is good for the wind, how I’m able to flight the ball, and I want the score higher, not a birdie fest. Par is a good score so I hope it blows.” … A&M is the No. 4 seed at the tournament. Oklahoma is the top seed. South Carolina is the only other SEC team at the Pullman Regional. … A&M and Phillips won the Bryan Regional last season. The Aggies went on to be one of the eight teams to make match play at the NCAA Championships, where they lost to eventual champion Oklahoma State on their home course.