Originally created 08/30/99

Benham a favorite at Midland Valley Senior Invitational

GRANITEVILLE -- It's a good thing Michael Benham has already clinched the Regions Cup senior player of the year title.

The 52-year-old Aiken golfer, one of the favorites in the Midland Valley Senior Invitational which begins today, may start running out of gas soon.

Because Benham played in the 54-hole Palmetto Amateur, which concluded on Sunday, he'll have played 90 holes in five days by the time the Midland Valley tournament ends.

The Midland Valley event, the ninth and final Regions Cup event of the season for seniors, concludes Tuesday at the Midland Valley Country Club.

With his second-place finish among seniors in the Palmetto Amateur (21st overall), Benham has 240 senior points, or 116 more than second-place Ed Payne of Augusta. The winner of the Midland seniors will earn 50 points so no one can catch Benham.

Benham and Colin Gordy of North Augusta are the only golfers in the Midland tournament who played in the prestigious Palmetto Amateur, which has a limited field.

"The Palmetto Amateur is something everybody wants to play in," Benham said. "When you're invited, how can you say no?"

The Palmetto Amateur was played a week earlier in 1998 and thus didn't run into the Midland Valley Senior Invitational like it has this year.

"The Senior Invitational is a very important tournament for us," Benham said. "But to play five days in a row of tournament golf, that's a little hard. It's hard to concentrate on every shot for five days in a row. At our level, we don't run into that type of thing."

Benham, who moved to Aiken in 1995 from Michigan, made his Regions Cup debut in the 1997 Palmetto Amateur, finishing fourth overall. Still an unknown quantity in 1998, he won three tournaments and the senior player of the year title by 55 points.

"Last year I snuck up on them," Benham said. "They weren't ready for me. It was my first full year. I just went around and did my thing."

This year, Benhan won three tournaments again, but had only a two-point lead over Payne after three tournaments. After finishing fourth in the next two tournaments, Benham won two in a row to pull away.

"They keep pushing," Benham said. "It seems like there's somebody there that keeps raising the level. I've been fortunate this year to go above it. We've got a good group of seniors and the scores bear us out. The boys can absolutely play."

Benham and his wife Janice retired in Aiken after Benham put in 27 years at Steel Case, Inc., in Grand Rapids, Mich. Steel Case is the No. 1 office furniture manufacturer in the U.S. Benham designed furniture.

When it came time to look for a retirement destination, Benham said "we picked a half dozen places and did some research on them. We came to Aiken first because "A" is at the beginning of the alphabet."

After their visit to Aiken, the Benhams were sold.

"We threw the list away," Benham said. "We fell in love with Aiken-Augusta area after we came down here and spent some time here."

In 1995, they moved to the Woodside Plantation community, where Benham is a member of the 36-hole golf club.

After playing there for two years, Woodside pro Todd Beiers convinced Benham that he could be competitively in the Regions Cup.

"I gave him a little bit of a challenge that he should try it," Beiers said. "He's a great player, there's no question about it. He's very consistent with his ball striking."


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