John Deere Awards Sponsor Exemption to Illinois Open Champion Benjamin

Brad BenjaminThe John Deere Classic has warded a sponsor exemption to Rockford amateur Brad Benjamin, who competed in this year's Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.

Benjamin, 23, who was invited to play in the Masters by virtue of his 2009 victory at the U.S. Public Links championship, said he is excited for the opportunity to play against the pros at the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run.

"I've gone to the tournament quite a few times and have played Deere Run double digits," Benjamin said. "To be able to play in the tournament means a lot. The John Deere is going to be the highlight of my summer."

John Deere Classic tournament director Clair Peterson said inviting Benjamin was consistent with the tournament's philosophy of identifying up-and-coming young players and giving them an opportunity to measure their games against the best.

"The John Deere Classic is thrilled that Brad Benjamin will be playing in the tournament this year," Peterson said. "He's an inspiration to every young golfer who dreams of playing the game at the highest level."

A 5-foot-9-inch, 160-pound lefthander, Benjamin was the first Rockford native ever to play in the Masters, where he shot 73-77-150 to miss the cut by three. The former University of Memphis golfer was among six amateurs to play at this year's Masters, only one of whom made it to the weekend. His Memphis teammate Jeff Hall caddied for him at Augusta.

"It was a dream come true," he said of his Masters experience. "I was so excited after Monday that I couldn't sleep because I couldn't wait for Tuesday to come."

Benjamin won last year's U.S. Publinx by shocking Washington All-American and Canadian player of the year Nick Taylor, whom he trounced 7-and-6 in a match play showdown at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club in Norman, Okla.

Later last summer, Benjamin defeated Illinois golf coach and former PGA Tour player Mike Small in a three-hole playoff to win the Illinois Open at Hawthorn Woods Country Club in northwest suburban Chicago. Benjamin forced his way into the playoff by making birdies on the 17th and 18th holes in regulation.

Eventually, Benjamin said, he plans to turn pro but this summer will play major amateur events with an eye toward earning a place on the Walker Cup team. Among the amateur events he's planning to play are the Western Amateur, Porter Cup, Northeast Amateur, and Southern Amateur. He said he will attempt to qualify for the U.S. Amateur.

Benjamin began his golf career playing local courses in Rockford. He played competitively in the Illinois Junior Golf Association and was named Player of the Year in 2003. He went on to play on the American Junior Golf Association circuit and at Guilford High School in Rockford.


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