“I remember calling my parents, I wasn’t sure what was going on…”
This is how Yohann Benson described the moments that followed his qualification for the United States Golf Open in 2008, a feat never accomplished by a Quebecer since Adrien Bigras, 44 years earlier.
Playing on the Canadian circuit for only two years, Benson had then defied all predictions by earning his ticket for the 108and US Open in a qualifier contested at the Old Oaks Country Club in New York State.
“I arrived the day before qualifying,” recalls the man who now acts as an analyst when covering major tournaments on RDS.
“I had played badly, I hadn’t had time to play a practice round. The land was super private, should have planned all this in advance, but I’m from Montreal, six hours away. »
After being lucky enough to walk only a few holes of the course, Benson went on the first round of qualifying and settled for a 75.
“I now knew the pitch a bit, I knew that I was not out of the tournament. It took four qualifiers and I had to be 20and, three or four moves from the last place giving access to the tournament. »
Benson comes in for the second and final round free of all pressure.
“I hit drivers everywhere, even though it was a super tight lot. It had worked really well, and I even made a hole in one on the 3and hole! Reporters and cameras started showing up on the last three or four holes. Didn’t even know if it was for me, never knew I qualified until 18and. »
Thanks to an excellent round of 67, Benson deserves his ticket to California. He achieves a rather exceptional feat for a Quebec golfer, a province not well known for its success on the international scene.
“The news started to spread in Quebec. This is really where the Quebec golf scene realized that I am a Quebecer, and that I speak French. »
With an English-sounding name, Benson says he went under the radar a bit before realizing his feat.
“Coming back from New York, I spent the six hours on the phone, television and radio. It opened the eyes of many. The golf scene in Quebec realized that I was one of them. »
“Like a kid in a candy store”
The US Open is reputed to be the toughest tournament of the four major tournaments. The playing conditions are pushed to the extreme, whether it is the height of the tall grass or the speed of the greens.
So Benson goes to San Diego with his parents and he honestly doesn’t know what to expect. He first goes to meet his younger brother and future good friend, Mark Long, a long-time associate of American golfer Fred Funk.
Guided by his experienced caddy, the Quebecer takes to the course for practice rounds alongside seasoned veterans like Vijay Singh and Mike Weir. Everything is happening very quickly and it is difficult to realize the magnitude of the task ahead.
“You’re like a kid in a candy store. All the manufacturers are after you to make you try all the clubs, balls and gloves. »
The US Open is also the ultimate in facilities and service. It’s easy for the young golfer from Pincourt to get distracted in such an environment, which has absolutely nothing to do with the conditions in which he plays on the Canadian circuit.
Through it all, Benson has to deal with the many requests pouring in from all sides.
“You buy flags, souvenirs, and the media, it continued…”, remembers the professional at the Laval-sur-le-Lac golf club.
“I was called by a radio station in Montreal, it was four in the morning! They had no idea the tournament was being held in California! »
Amid all the hubbub and many distractions, Benson recalls that it was that week that he discovered a passion for the media, which now serves him very well in his new role as an analyst at television.
Take on the world’s toughest golf test
Yohann Benson starts U.S. Open on 10and hole, in one of the last starts of the day. The ground is in the conditions that one should expect for a US Open, that is to say unforgivable. In addition, the course of Torrey Pines is long, very long. 7643 yards to be exact, a mind-blowing distance 11 years ago.
“Those are big nerves… I was nervous at the end,” he recalls.
His two playing partners start before him and send their tee shots into the forest, on the left, out of bounds. Yet another reason to be a little more nervous. However, Benson hits an excellent first shot and continues his momentum on the first five holes, which he plays at par.
“Then I saw my name…Benson…appear on the leader board. After that, it was a pretty solid tumble. It’s part of learning. »
The golfer ends his day with a card of 83. Already, he knows that his hopes of participating in the final rounds are almost non-existent. Still, his experience brought him lasting memories and paved the way for the career as a professional golfer, teacher and caddy that he was to experience in the years that followed.
“It’s been an amazing week,” said Benson, who eventually scored a 78 in his second round. “But I wasn’t prepared for this. Having been a caddy for five or six years on the PGA Tour, I would be much better prepared today. I’m even a better player than I was back then. I’ve seen so much of golf, I’ve seen how the best prepare. »
Benson is probably telling the truth when he prides himself on being better than at the time, he who has just won the 90th edition of the Spring Open, presented at the Beaconsfield golf club barely 10 days ago. In his first appearance at the tournament in almost 10 years, the one who must now be considered a veteran brought back a card of 66, riddled with seven birdies.
A front row seat to witness history
We especially remember the 108and United States Open for the victory of Tiger Woods, on one leg, in overtime against Rocco Mediate.
Until the Masters two months ago, it was still the most recent major victory for the famous golfer and Benson has vivid memories of it. He was still on the scene for the final rounds.
“The roll to force overtime, which curved right to left, I was alongside my friend Mike, who is a cameraman for NBC and was producing content for the Canadian Tour. When Tiger makes his putt, I’m lying next to the guy who filmed the ball rolling! »
If you were listening at the time, you certainly remember Woods’ reaction, screaming his pain and joy on the 18th green at Torrey Pines in the process.
“When the putt fell, we looked up and got it all…Beer, wine, Coke, nachos…people woke up like crazy!” »
That’s how Benson’s week at Torrey Pines ended. Since then, no Quebec golfer has participated in a major tournament, which makes the golfer’s feat even more significant today when we are still waiting for the next young hope who will be able to break through on the international scene.
Benson says it, the talent is there in Quebec. We need only think of Hugo Bernard, Étienne Brault and Joey Savoie who are currently doing very well everywhere on the amateur golf scene. To take the next step, the one who now provides advice to young and old believes that it is necessary to leave aside the inferiority complex that inhabits local products.
“Teaching is outdated here. We make golf far too complex for nothing. The most important thing to do is to surround yourself with competent people. Look at hockey, these young people, they grow up around former great hockey players. »
Benson’s reflection is certainly worth exploring in more depth. If we draw a parallel with another individual sport, tennis, where our representatives do extremely well on the international scene, it would be high time to rethink the foundations of the mechanisms for developing young local talent if we ever want to encourage a Quebecer on the PGA Tour.
Another exciting tournament to be expected
As of Thursday, the United States Open will be transported to the magnificent Pebble Beach course for the 119and edition of the tournament. This time, Benson will be camped in the studios of RDS to make you live this great meeting.
“It’s going to be a great tournament. There are many players who can claim victory. »
The Pebble Beach course is rather particular in the standards normally required by the USGA for the presentation of its annual tournament. Distance is not a problem, the course being rather short, but it is rather the smallness of the greens and its undulations that will challenge golfers. The watchword is therefore precision and if the wind picks up on the shores of the Pacific, caution will be in order.
“You can be four feet from the hole and your putt will break by a foot or two,” explains the man who has had the chance to act as a cadet many times on the spot.
While waiting to see a local talent again set off on the biggest golf stage in America, the appointment is given for another exciting major tournament where the stories to follow are numerous.
Could Brooks Koepka win a third consecutive US Open title? At 48, can Phil Mickelson finally win his national omnium on a field where he has had great success in the past? Will Tiger Woods be able to repeat his exploits of the year 2000, when he won by 15 strokes in an absolutely unique demonstration of his talent?
We will have answers to these questions on Thursday afternoon in a tournament that promises to be, like this 2019 season, very exciting.