Just over a month ago, Georgia Southern’s Ben Carr sat down with his mother and brother and told them he just didn’t think he was good enough to compete with the best golfers in the world. Sunday, Carr proved he can play with the best of them as he took the No. 3-ranked amateur golfer in the world down to the final hole before falling in the U.S. Amateur championship at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey.
Carr faced off against Sam Bennett of Texas A&M, currently ranked No. 3 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. Carr is no slouch at No. 70, and the two were set for a memorable 36-hole match. Carr found himself 3 down through the first 18 and needed to make up ground on the second 18.
Carr sputtered out of the gate and found himself 5 down after losing two of the first three holes. Rather than just folding things up, Carr showed the fighting spirit he played with all week with two 60-foot-plus birdies on the fifth and sixth holes with a chip in and a long putt. Carr trimmed the lead to 1-up with one hole to play with some more fantastic shots, including a spectacular 15-foot birdie putt on No. 17 to force the match to an 18th hole.
On the 18th hole, Carr’s approach shot flew over the green. With Bennett safely on the green in two, Carr’s chip was about 12 feet short and Bennett wrapped things up with a tap-in par, ending the match. While he may have finished runner-up, by making the finals, Carr earned himself a spot in both the 2023 Masters and the U.S. Open.
“It has been an awesome week and I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Carr said. “I started to climb back into the match the second 18. I was playing solidly and was able to get a couple holes off of him. But even when it looked like we might eventually go into extra holes, he just looked so calm. I mean, I don't think either of us were honestly too nervous all day. This is the calmest I've been all week.”
Gracious to the end, Carr praised the play of Bennett, with whom he shares an unfortunate bond as both lost their fathers within the last three years.
“I am proud of the way I played this week, but I am also proud of Sam,” Carr said. “We became very good friends through the battle we had today and we have a couple things in common that bring us together. We really talked a lot together today. It wasn’t like we were playing in the U.S. Amateur finals, more like just a Saturday game at Forest Heights. I made sure to tell him afterwards how proud his dad is of what he did. That was important for me to be able to say that to him, because I know how much that would have meant to me if someone said that to me if I had won.”
In one of the toughest tests in golf, Carr played a total of 162 holes over seven days. Advancing through stroke play, Carr won the opening round of match play over Jake Holbrook 7 and 5. Advancing to Thursday’s round of 32, he beat Andrew Von Lossow 1-up and then had to play 19 holes before knocking off Nathan Franks. In Friday’s quarterfinals, Carr beat Alex Price 2 and 1 and then Saturday, Carr defeated Derek Hitchner 3 and 2 to put himself into the championship.
Saturday’s emotional round ended with a rainbow appearing just as Carr had clinched the match. Afterwards, the usually stoic Carr broke down in his post-match interview with The Golf Channel’s Smylie Kaufman, thinking about his father David, who passed away in 2019.
“I knew as soon as the match ended there was no way I could hold it back during the interview,” Carr said. “While we were waiting to go on, Smylie pointed out the rainbow and we both got a little choked up. I think it was a sign from my dad that he is with me everywhere I go. I had a chance to close things out 15 and missed a putt, but the rainbow wasn’t out yet, and I think I was meant to close it out on 16 so I could see that rainbow.”
Carr became a crowd favorite over the week and that became even more evident Sunday as the gallery of approximately 2,000 cheered loudly as Carr made his run. Quite a few of those on hand were wearing Georgia Southern gear, including his coaches and teammates who made the trip.
“I don’t know what I did to get them all rooting for me, but I could tell the overwhelming majority were pulling for me,” Carr said. “Having that kind of support really helped me so much when I was fighting back. I have never been a part of anything like this before. The support I have gotten from everyone here and at home this week has been just overwhelming, in a good way.”
Among those on hand was Georgia Southern coach Carter Collins, who thought Sunday was an incredible display but wasn’t surprised Carr put himself in a position to play for the championship.
“Watching him be successful in the most pressure-packed environment any amateur could ever be in is one of the most emotionally gratifying things I’ve seen,” Collins said. “I fully believed in him and that he could battle back, and he did it. I think he played well for 36 holes, they were both playing on such a high level sometimes you miss that. That putt Ben made on 17 was one of the coolest putts I’ve ever seen in my life. To have the match on the line and bury a 14-footer to give yourself a chance to move on was one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in golf.”
Collins may have to work out the spring calendar as Carr prepares for the Masters, which coincidentally comes right after the Eagles are scheduled to be in Augusta for the Augusta Haskins Award Invitational. The Eagles open their fall schedule Sept. 4 at the Fighting Irish Classic at Notre Dame.