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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter/ Ben Rebne putts on the 16th green at The Honors Course during the final round of the 104th Tennessee State Amateur Championship on Aug. 9, 2019, in Ooltewah.

Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Dalton State College men's golf coach Ben Rickett attempts to instill those five words in his Roadrunners as often as he reminds them to keep their heads down or take a deep breath before a big shot.

And it would have been difficult to find a more uncomfortable situation for fifth-year senior Ben Rebne than the one he faced on May 21 at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois.

Standing in the middle of the 18th fairway during the final round of the NAIA national championship tournament on that Friday afternoon, a hard rain pouring down and a stiff wind in his face, the hole 165 yards away, the former Heritage High School star turned to Rickett and asked where Dalton State stood on the scoreboard.

"Do you really want to know?" the coach replied.

Told yes, Rickett informed his best player that the Roadrunners were tied with reigning national champion Texas Wesleyan and Rebne would need to make par to force a playoff.

Talk about uncomfortable.

Beyond that, hitting into Deere Run's 18th green is anything but a sure thing. Water closely guards the left side with sand equally defending the right. A bogey, or worse, can be just as likely as a par, much less a birdie.

Perhaps concerned that this wouldn't end well, that his otherwise magnificent college golf career might conclude on a down note, the 23-year-old Rebne turned to Rickett and said something about how much the past five years had meant to him.

Countered Rickett: "There's a time and place for that, and this isn't it."

So befitting the 2020 Jack Nicklaus Award winner as the NAIA's top player, Rebne promptly grooved an 8-iron shot to within 22 feet of the hole. Two-putt from there, and the Roadrunners — the 2018 runners-up — could attempt to win their first national title in overtime.

"But a 22-foot putt, especially in the rain, is no sure two-putt," Rickett said. "You could easily three-putt from there."

The two Bens devised a plan. They picked a spot roughly a foot to the right of the hole. Rebne would roll it over that spot, hopeful the ball would wind up close enough for a tap-in and extra golf. Only at the last second, Rebne changed his mind.

"I decided to go a little farther to the right," he recalled this past week.

Knowing this single putt could forever enhance the name of Dalton State golf, Rickett asked sophomore teammate Tyler White to video the moment.

Standing over the ball with the bill of his cap turned backward to keep the rain from pouring down in front of his eyes, Rebne struck his Titleist Pro V1 ball with the Odyssey No. 7 putter he's used since the seventh grade. The putt broke left, just as he'd hoped, though it had a bit more pace than planned.

"I knew it was going in," he said. Yet he also added: "It lipped in hard on the right. It was really close to missing."

But it didn't. Rebne's birdie meant the Roadrunners didn't have to go to a playoff. Rebne almost instantly lifted his hand into the air in triumph just before being mobbed by teammates.

"It wasn't much of a gesture, but you don't want to make an early call in a situation like that, something like following the ball toward the hole, then miss the putt," he said. "It's still sinking in, but it just proved that five years of hard work paid off."

As for the video of that championship moment, Rebne said, "I've probably watched it a thousand times."

Rickett, a native of Surrey, England, has experienced a similar moment previously. The former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golfer was on the bag for Mocs teammate Steven Fox when Fox shocked the golf world by capturing the 2012 U.S. Amateur.

"It's close," Rickett answered when asked which was better. "But I'll say this one because it's a team championship."

Rebne echoed that mindset: "The star of our team is the team as a whole. We played out of our minds to win this thing."

Indeed, though Rebne finished tied for second at par on the individual leaderboard, freshman Steve Kibare tied for 11th, Matthew Cleary tied for 28th, Trevor Bassett tied for 44th and Joshua Stern tied for 66th. Of that group, only Rebne — again a Nicklaus Award finalist — graduates.

And as much as Rickett credits those players, he also gave a nod to the local courses the Roadrunners practice on day after day: The Farm (Ben's father Richard is an assistant pro at the Rocky Face club), Dalton Country Club and Nob North, a municipal course in Cohutta.

"We were so disciplined over the four days," he said. "That is what playing The Farm teaches you. This is what playing Dalton Country Club teaches you. TPC Deere Run is a second-shot golf course. It's difficult. But it's no different than The Farm."

Much like Rebne, Rickett — a UTC assistant before taking charge at Dalton State when that program launched eight years ago — is still coming to terms with coaching a national championship program.

"It's surreal," Rickett said. "I walk in our athletic offices, and there's our NAIA national championship banner hanging right next to the NAIA national championship banner we won in basketball in 2015."

In two weeks, Rebne will climb into his 2017 Honda Civic and drive 15.5 hours to Garden City, Kansas, for the Southwest Kansas Pro-Am in hopes of collecting his first paycheck as a pro. But between now and then, he and Rickett will finally have the time and place to reflect on the past eight years, beginning when the Dalton State coach started recruiting Rebne during his freshman year at Heritage.

"Even then, Ben was very consistent and he had a good personality," Rickett said. "One of the first things I asked him was, 'Do you want to win a national championship?'"

On May 21, 2021, the wind and rain pounding him in the face, Rebn buried a 22-foot putt on the final hole of his collegiate career to deliver an emphatic "Yes!"

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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