Bennett earns all-state honors among Centralia’s crop of golfers

By Jeremy Jacob, Sports Editor
Posted 5/23/24

The term “range rat” is considered a compliment for Centralia boys golf.

Head coach John Finlay describes his state golfers this year in that manner, including all-state Cullen …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Bennett earns all-state honors among Centralia’s crop of golfers


The term “range rat” is considered a compliment for Centralia boys golf.

Head coach John Finlay describes his state golfers this year in that manner, including all-state Cullen Bennett. The senior Bennett earned his second career all-state honors at the Class 2 state tournament on May 13-14 at Paradise Pointe in Smithville after shooting a two-day score of 164, or 20-over par, to finish fourth. 

Finlay said he finds it difficult to keep some of his golfers off the driving range. Bennett is at the top of this list along with Travis Brooks, Carter Moss and Brady Schultz. Those are the four golfers Centralia was able to qualify individually for state this year. Brooks finished with a 178 to finish in a tie for 39th, Moss had a 176 to tie for 33rd and Schultz shot a 180 to tie for 44th. 

“I would refer to Cullen as a range rat,” Finlay said. “He is on the (driving) range all the time. He plays a lot. It’s not a bad nickname. I would get messages or told the day after that three of my kids were still on the range when it was too dark to be hitting golf balls. That would be him, Travis and Carter and Brady got pulled into that sometimes too.”

The state tournament is always a “tiring” experience just because it is two full days of golf back-to-back, but Finlay said his kids were still considering hitting more golf balls after everything was over. 

Bennett said he didn’t start golfing until a year before high school. While starting golf isn’t hard, he said the challenging part is staying with it and becoming more consistent. By his junior year, Bennett said it was more clear to him having as much fun as possible is important, especially now that he has finished his senior year.

“The thing about golf is you can always measure your growth,” Bennett said. “You look back and see how much better you’ve gotten from the courses you played last year. That’s been the most fun thing. The key to that is just enjoying it more.”

Bennett had to remind himself to keep things light at state following the first day. He was only two strokes worse than his second-day score of 81, but that allowed him to rise five spots to fourth to improve on his all-state finish of seventh from two years ago.

Finlay and Bennett agreed that Paradise Pointe is a beautiful course that wasn’t ruined by any wet weather at that time. Still, it is a long and hilly course that has a lake that extends through holes No. 2-6 and 69 bunkers, which is the most on a course the Panthers have played since Columbia Country Club — the state course Bennett played on two years ago.

“The first round on the first day, I struggled off the tees and that got me in trouble where I had four bad holes,” Bennett said. “I didn’t really have any bad holes in my score for Day 2. I was much more precise off the tee, and that kept me out of trouble.”

Bennett added the greens were tough and fast after he figured out “where to miss” with all of the hazards, and Finlay said the bunkers needed shots that are 8-12 feet high to escape. Still, Finlay wouldn’t mind if the course stayed in the state rotation.

“It’s a great course,” Finlay said. “I will make every attempt personally to go play that one of these days. It’s beautiful, they take care of it, the people who were volunteering there were great people to talk to and you got great insight on the course itself from some of the guys.”

Finlay said he thought every Centralia golfer played as well they could on Day 2 and even joked that maybe he should set a higher goal of 20 strokes. The Panthers did take 20 strokes off their Day 1 score with a Day 2 score of 339, and that put them only three strokes behind a trophy in fourth place. Moss improved his placing by eight spots, Brooks jumped 17 places and Schultz rose 12 places.

For the two first-time state golfers, Travis and Brady, Finlay said they seemed more relaxed on Day 2. That also applies to Moss and Bennett as the bad holes shrunk on the second day along with the anxiety.

“The only thing that Cullen messed up on for Day 1 was he had four bad holes,” Finlay said. “The rest of the time, he was crushing it. We just assigned coach (Brandon) Kinkead to walk with him. He’s about as good of a conversationalist as you’re going to find to keep Cullen loose and easy.”

Finlay said he knows of a 1995 Centralia boys team, and this year’s team was the first team’s worth of Centralia boys golfers to go to state in three decades.

What Bennett and the Panthers did know for sure is that nobody qualified for state when they were in Class 3 competition a year ago so the goal from the start was to send a team. Bennett said his final state run was made better with his teammates competing there this year. 

“We knew we could do it, and we knew we had the team,” Bennett said. “It was a great experience having the whole team there because not only are you fighting for yourself to get a good place, but you’re fighting for your team to get a good place as well.”

Even with Bennett and others graduating, Finlay said he still sees a lot of “range rats” or others that are willing to put in work. Just this season, Centralia had 25 kids out of golf this season, and he doesn’t see that number dwindling that much in the near future.

“There’s also a handful of eighth-grade boys we have to basically chase off the range every day before we start practice,” Finlay said. “They leave school, go straight to the range and hit golf balls. The future looks bright for boys. 12 of my top 15 kids were coming back, and I had five freshmen end up in the top 15.”