Camilo Benedetti could have driven himself nutty trying to identify the critical stroke.
One rimmed-out putt. A drive into the water. A ball lying sardonically in a bunker, unable to hold the green. An overly aggressive line. A conservative play.
In the end, that’s all that stood between Benedetti and his 2013 PGA TOUR card. One stroke, taken from any of 16 Web.com Tour locales last year. Pick one.
Somehow, the Colombian pro avoided that spiral.
“What happened in 2012, it happened,” said Benedetti, who fell $940 shy of a place among last year’s 25 graduates. “It’s gone. I’m really excited about this year; I’m looking forward to going back out.”
And so Benedetti tees off Thursday at the Panama Claro Championship as the top returnee from last year’s money list. It’s kind of like being the final guy sent down from the Yankees roster to get a bit more seasoning.
The dream isn’t dead, just delayed.
“That first day after [the season], it was very frustrating,” Benedetti acknowledged. “I played really hard all year and finished 26th. But it didn’t last very long. I was able to look at the positives because there were too many last year.”
If the steady climb Benedetti has maintained for the past four years continues, there’s really only one step left. From 146th on the 2008 money list, he’s risen every year - to 84th, then 63rd, then 35th and the aforementioned 26th.
Benedetti’s tally of top-10s and top-25s also has progressively grown. Last year’s six top-10s included a tie for fourth at the Price Cutter Charity Championship, two shots out of the playoff eventually won by Chris Wilson.
“I only shot 2 under on the back nine,” Benedetti recalled. “That’s a golf course where you’ve got to make birdies, and there were a few [chances left out there] on the back nine toward the end.”
Benedetti also held the 36-hole lead at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open, though Casey Wittenberg wound up blitzing the field on the weekend. Benedetti’s tie for fifth was the first of back-to-back such finishes, though in each case not close enough to mount a challenge down the stretch.
It still might have been enough to earn a PGA TOUR card, until he hit a flat stretch in the season’s final third. The former Florida standout missed five consecutive cuts from late August through all of September, moving from 17th on the money list to squarely on THE 25’s bubble.
Another missed cut at the Miccosukee Championship dropped Benedetti out of the top 25, then he moved back up with a tie for 10th at the Jacksonville Winn-Dixie Open. But a slow start at the Web.com Tour Championship proved costly, leaving him 19th despite weekend rounds of 66-67.
With all the jockeying in the final hour, Benedetti could only watch as the final groups played out their rounds at TPC Craig Ranch. Though the $940 gap to No. 25 wasn’t the smallest to keep someone from a PGA TOUR card, it was enough to give him pause.
“Everything goes through your head,” he said.
Consider that at any venue where Benedetti finished in the top 25, one fewer stroke would have bumped his earnings by enough to overcome the $940.
Or that five of his missed cuts came by a single stroke – including the first three in that five-event skid through September. Another was at the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship, in front of his countrymen.
“Fortunately, it didn’t stay with me,” Benedetti said of the disappointment. “I didn’t think too much of it after that last day.”
Now 33, Benedetti could take a solace with his progress in several key statistical categories, including a jump to 17th in greens in regulation. He wound up 11th in the all-around rankings, which combines eight primary statistical measures.
“It’s been a slow progression, but a very solid one,” Benedetti said. “I feel like my game’s very consistent nowadays, and that’s the main thing I’ve worked on these past three years. I’ve tried to get every aspect of my game more consistent.”
If there’s one aspect that needs continued refinement, though, it’s his putting. Though his putting average was only slightly off from previous years, it was enough to drop him from ninth in 2011 to 40th last year.
“It wasn’t a bad year I had last year, but I need to feel more comfortable with it,” he said.
“I had a stretch of tournaments where I putted really well for two days, and two days it wasn’t very good. That was kind of my summary for the year. I told myself I need to have four good days of putting.”
Who knows, it might have spelled the difference between a return ticket to Panama and spending the month at Pebble Beach or Phoenix. Benedetti just tells himself that it’s a message to refine his game a little more.
“When I get to the TOUR, I want to stay there,” he said. “I don’t want to bounce back.”
And if there’s one silver lining from another year on the Web.com Tour, it’s that he’ll have another season to collect that elusive victory.
“It’s always been one of my goals,” Benedetti said. “Now I really feel like I can win several tournaments. That’s just how I feel about my game now.”