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Benson fires 67 to win Labor Day Classic

Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe Tad Leistico watches a tee shot during Monday's Labor Day Classic at Worthington Country Club.1 / 12
Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe Brett Benson chips onto the green during the Final Four of the Labor Day Classic Monday afternoon at Worthington Country Club.2 / 12
Jon Brown chips out of the sand during the Final Four Monday at the Labor Day Classic at Worthington Country Club.3 / 12
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WORTHINGTON -- If it was Brett Benson's final tournament as an amateur, there isn't a better way to finish.

Benson fired a four-under 67 Monday afternoon, winning the prestigious Labor Day Classic in his third try.

"It feels really good," Benson said following the tournament. "I played well all week. I made a lot of putts and I got up and down from everywhere when I didn't hit the greens. I struck the ball really well most of the time."

Jon Brown, last year's champion, was second with an even-par 71. Tad Leistico was third with a 72, while Luke Joy finished fourth after a final-round 79.

Benson, who has been playing well all summer, was thinking about making the move to professional golf.

"I've been talking about it," he said. "If I don't find a job here this winter, I'm going to go down to either Texas or Arizona and try a mini-tour. Coming into it, I didn't tell a lot of people, but I said this might be my last amateur tournament, and I think this is a good way to go out. From around here, this is a tournament you want to win."

Benson has spent time on the golf teams at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. and at Jackson State in Mississippi. Now, he feels ready to try the next challenge.

"As a little boy, you always are wanting to go to the next level," he said. "As a kid, I wanted to play college golf, when I got into high school, I wanted to play Division I golf. I got both those accomplished. I've always wanted to be a professional golfer, so if I get a chance to do it, I'll take a chance to do it."

But before he could focus on what lies ahead, Benson first had to work his way through a tough LDC field.

"It's a great tournament," Benson said. "I love the format. The qualifying is fun and then you go to match play where anything can happen, which is an example of me and how I got in the Final Four. I made a 15-footer and the guy four-putted. Then when you get 150 or 200 people following you, to me, that's fun. If you don't like it, you need to get out of the sport."

Benson defeated Ryan Tjeerdsma in the semifinals on a playoff hole to qualify for the Final Four.

"I had a little momentum going and I was putting really well," Benson said. "I actually played really well except for the last couple of holes in the first round. I knew all summer I've been playing really well. I hit a lot of good iron shots and my putting has improved drastically in the last couple of years."

Meanwhile, Brown was never able to get on top of his game.

"I thought I had a pretty good defense finishing second," Brown said. "I just never quite got clicking this whole week. I was fighting my game a little bit. But I hung in there and second place isn't so bad. I've had some success up here, so I guess it's a little bit of a disappointment if I don't finish first because I've tasted it so many times. It's a little bit of a letdown. But I feel like I fought well and I stayed in it and just hung in there."

Brown struggled early with two bogeys in the first four holes. He would birdie No. 6 and made the turn at 1-over.

"Today, I didn't really have a whole lot of opportunities," Brown said. "It seemed like I had downhill putts repeatedly or putts that I couldn't attack, or I'd miss greens where it would barely roll off. I just couldn't ever get any good looks. That's the way golf is."

Joy found trouble early and double bogeyed Nos. 2, 3, 5 and 9 on the front to fire a 43. He was even-par 36 on the back.

Leistico had the early lead after a birdie on No. 2, but gave a shot back with a bogey on No. 3.

"The one that really kicked me back -- and it ended up being a good bogey if there is such a thing -- is on No. 3," Leistico said. "I thought I hit a really good shot. I had a great yardage and a club that I normally don't hit that far thinking it's just going to jump out of the rough a little bit, and it jumped a lot. It flew the green and I ended up making a bogey, but like I said, it was a good bogey on that hole."

He would bogey No. 4 and birdie No. 6 to go out in 35.

Benson, meanwhile had a par on each of the first four holes before a birdie on No. 5.

But it was No. 6 where he took the lead and never gave it back.

After a tee shot that was off to the right, Benson stuck his second shot to the 510-yard Par-5 and sank the putt for an eagle.

"Those were huge," Benson said of Nos. 5 and 6. "I knew I was hitting the ball well enough, I just had to get it in spots where I could be aggressive on making putts. I started doing that between Hole 5 to Hole 14. I really got shots in there close where I could be aggressive at putts and they fell."

A poor putt sent Benson to a bogey on No. 9 and dropped him to a two-under 33 on the front.

"It was just a bad putt," Benson said. "I pushed the putt and it got caught on the ridge and it went down the gully. It was a bad putt. It was one of the bad putts I had all day."

After a par on No. 10, Benson went on a tear that essentially won him the tournament.

Benson rattled off three straight birdies and nearly eagled the Par-5 12th to move to 5-under.

"Brett really deserved to win," Brown said. "He was clearly playing the best golf today. I'm happy for him. He played great and he deserved it."

Benson made a bogey on No. 14 and pared No. 15 as he had a four-stroke lead over Leistico.

He put the exclamation point on his victory on No. 16.

Leistico stepped up and drove the green on the 312-yard Par-4, while Benson was short to the left after hitting an iron off the tee.

But playing first, the Jackson County Central graduate hit the shot of the round, sticking the ball within two feet.

"Toward the end, the big momentum shift was when I drove the green on 16," Leistico said. "He hit a rather poor tee shot for him for what he had done all day and then he turns around and hits it and has a kick-in. I was surprised, I didn't expect that shot he hit."

Leistico missed his eagle putt and both players made birdie, keeping the lead to four shots.

"After he missed the eagle putt on 16, I thought I had a chance to win," Benson said. "On 17, it was a bad swing, but that happens. I got up and down for par, so I figured I had five shots to deal with coming up 18. That was a fun walk up 18, that's always fun."

Leistico finished with two bogeys and Brown made a birdie on 17 and a par on 18 to claim second.

"I feel like I hit it well enough to be under par all day," Leistico said. "Just to finish bogey-bogey is not the way you want to end any tournament."

Even though the tournament didn't end the way Brown wanted, it was still a fun weekend for the seven-time winner.

"It's a great weekend," he said. "Whenever I come up here it's always neat because of what's happened in the past and all the friends we've made up here. It's a big reunion. It was really important to me to get to the Final Four. If I wouldn't have gotten to the Final Four, it would have been a huge disappointment. I got there, and it didn't quite go my way, but that's OK, I fought pretty well."

Benson bogeyed 18, but had plenty of room to spare in a four-shot win.

"I've been playing so well this summer," Benson said. "From 20 feet and in, I've made a lot of putts. It was evident today, I made a lot of 10 and 15 footers. If I could keep the ball in play -- which I did -- and then hit it on the greens, I had chances."