The moment and the various opportunities it represented were not lost on Connor Bennink during the NCAA Men’s Division II Golf Championship last week at TPC Michigan, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course near Detroit.
It was his team’s second consecutive NCAA championship appearance, at another prestigious course he probably never would have been able to play on outside of college golf – last year he was on PGA National in Florida.
Majoring in finance and accounting with a GPA of 4.0, Bennink was named the winner of the Elite 90 event last week. The award is given to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade point average attending the finals site for each of the NCAA championships.
In the coming weeks, he will begin a summer internship at Baker Tilly, a large international accounting firm.
It’s all part of a rare experience that the Pennsylvania native is trying to make the most of.
“It’s definitely not an easy thing to find where you can play in events like this, the NCAA championships…while getting a degree, or in my case two degrees, and working full time for summer,” he said. “Being able to balance those three things is something I’m very grateful for. I’m really grateful that Gannon gave me this opportunity and also my coach (Dustin Coleman) being flexible with practice and what I do more in the summer. and trusting myself to do what I need to do while still being able to pursue all the things I want to pursue.”
Bennink knows how very different his college experience was as well.
A multi-sport athlete in high school, he said he didn’t have many options to play golf and pursue the level of education he wanted at the college level. Even Gannon didn’t enter the scene until the end of his senior year of high school.
“I wasn’t a highly recruited kid out of high school. Everything (with Gannon) kind of fell into place really quickly, and I thought, ‘This is great. I can study and play golf at a high level,” he said. “But really, I didn’t have many other options to play golf and do what I wanted to do academically.”
It worked better than he ever imagined. The Elite 90 recognition is the latest proof of this.
The Elite 90 is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative GPA participating at the Finals venue for each of the NCAA Championships. pic.twitter.com/NpY8vM5U60
— NCAA (@NCAA) May 16, 2022
“It’s just a lot of time and effort and sacrifice that a lot of other college kids go through or maybe go through,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t always get the instant gratification of studying or practicing a little more, but rewards like this certainly help satisfy all the time and effort that goes into it.”
Bennink noted that golf juggling, two majors, and a full-time summer internship had great support from Gannon. It goes far beyond the flexibility and confidence of his trainer.
“My teachers are great. Whether I miss classes or catch up on some homework, they have been a great support. didn’t get the support I needed,” he said. “Gannon has been awesome, and I certainly feel a lot of gratitude to them for everything they’ve given me.”
While successfully managing all of his engagements certainly requires a level of sacrifice in other areas, Bennink said he doesn’t feel like it because of the passion he brings to each one.
“(There’s) not a lot of free time, which I don’t mind because I do things that I like to do,” he said. “For me, getting out to practice my short game or hitting the range doesn’t really feel like work. That would fall into the category of hours I spend on my golf game, but it’s what I would do to fun if I wasn’t playing golf competitively. That really helps.
Personally, Bennink said having multiple passions also naturally helps him balance everything that comes with them. When one becomes overwhelming or stressful, it can escape it completely through the other.
“Like I’m really stressed about something I’m doing at school, playing nine holes after class on a nice evening is something that takes me out of that space and clears my mind and allows me to fully engage my mental energy in school,” he said. “And vice versa, if I had a tough tournament or we were traveling, I come back and the last thing I want to deal with is golf, I can kind of dive into my schoolwork.”
As Bennink dives into this summer’s internship, an opportunity he hopes will affirm his desire to get into public accounting after school, he’s working to enjoy it one step at a time. He has seen seniors graduate and move on with their lives. Only halfway through his college golf career, he wants to make sure he soaks it all up while he can.
“One thing that sets in is enjoying the moment, trying to live in the present and realizing that the group of guys that we have and the opportunities that we have to play won’t last forever and won’t be there forever,” he said. “As I’ve seen guys move on…it’s kind of a real lesson that nothing is guaranteed and anything can happen at any time.”