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Don't look back: Benson starts strong, captures Labor Day Classic in Worthington

Brett Benson got off to a great start and never looked back Monday at the Labor Day Classic Golf Tournament.

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A gallery of fans in golf carts at the GreatLife Golf & Fitness Club Worthington watch Brett Benson chip out of the sand trap on the ninth green during the Labor Day Golf Classic Final Four Monday afternoon. Benson started strong and finished strong to win the championship. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Brett Benson got off to a great start and never looked back Monday at the Labor Day Classic Golf Tournament.

Benson, competing in his fifth consecutive LDC Final Four, captured his third tournament championship with a 1-under par 70. He birdied holes 17 and 18 to finish in style on a warm and breezy day at the GreatLife Golf and Fitness Club.

Jonathan Burns was a distant second with 5-over par 76. Tad Leistico, the one-time Worthington High School star now living in Omaha, Neb., who’d won the LDC twice, finished third with a plus-six 77. And Steven Rubis, of St. Paul, shot a 14-over 85.

Benson was even par after the sixth hole, already two strokes better than Leistico, four strokes better than Burns and six strokes better than Rubis. His competitors never really made a strong run at the leader as Benson -- who counts the Worthington course as one of his favorites -- stayed consistent throughout. It looked, for a moment, that Burns might become a threat after he sunk a 16-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole to pull within three strokes, but he lost a stroke on the 15th and another on the 16th when Benson holed a 9-foot putt for a par.

When Benson, a Jackson High School graduate now living in Bird Island, made a 25-footer from the fringe on 17, there was no denying that this was his day. His birdie on 18 dropped him under par -- a fitting climax.

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Later, Benson said he doesn’t really like putting from the fringe, but he noted that the 17th green appeared very fast and he thought -- rightly -- that his putter would serve him well.

“This one’s good,” Benson said about his 2021 championship. “Any time you can win, it’s good. This is five in a row Final Fours for me. This is a fun tournament. This is one you mark on the calendar every year.”

Benson was the only golfer from the 2020 Final Four (Max Tykle of Lakeville, Jamie Quesnel of Lakeville and Ben Nath of Luverne were the other three) who returned this year to the last round of 18. The 34-year-old, who is the K-12 principal at BOLD High School, made it count on Monday.

“I played well. There was a stretch in there that I hit some shots that I normally don’t hit,” he said. “But I felt confident. I’ve played this course since I was a junior (in high school). We’re probably looking at 16-17 years I’ve been playing in this tournament.”

Benson’s length off the tee was impressive. But then, that’s always been one of his strengths.

“I hit the ball far enough on this course that that’s a huge advantage for me. When I’m 15 or 20 feet beyond anybody, that makes it easier for me,” he said.

Though they could not catch up to Benson, the other three competitors had many good shots on the back nine, ranging from the monster tee shot Leistico had on No. 13 to the 50-foot putt on 15 that Burns left only two inches short of the hole. Those were good for oohs and aahs, but not a title.

Leistico, 47, who figures he’s competed in 29 Labor Day Classics in his career, first burst onto the local golf scene when he qualified for the state tournament as a freshman on Don Kuiper’s WHS boys’ team. He works today as a sales representative for Srixon and Cleveland Golf, and he keeps returning to Worthington hoping to catch lightning in a bottle one more time.

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“Just one of those days,” Leistico said of his Monday tournament performance. “It was a big struggle on the front nine, hoping I could just hold onto it. Trying to hit some good shots on the back nine and get back into it.”

Not this time. Maybe next year.

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Tad Leistico places his ball on the seventh green during the Labor Day Golf Tournament final four Monday afternoon. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

Related Topics: GOLF
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