PHOENIX — Sean Benson hand a secret weapon with him as he ran away from the field to win the Frontier Conference Championships on the Papago Golf Course.
They called him the Big Kahuna.
That is Lee LaBreche, Montana Tech’s golf coach who passed away at age 55 on Feb. 22.
Benson kept his coach close to his heart as he went wire to wire for the Frontier title.
Benson fired a 1-under-par 71 Wednesday to lock up the championship with a three-day total of 212, which is 4 under par. Runner up Reece Nielsen of Rocky Mountain College finished six shots back at 218. (Men’s results; women’s results)
“It feels good, but I really wish Lee was here,” Benson said of winning the Frontier title. “I had a picture of him in my yardage book all week. I kept looking at him and asking him for help. He came through for me.”
Benson chose Montana Tech over bigger schools because of LaBreche.
“I was won over by the handlebar mustache and the steak dinner,” Benson joked. “I knew if I went to Tech I would eat good.”
Every player on the Oredigger men’s and women’s teams honored their fallen coach during the three-day tournament.
“We all had ribbons on our hats,” Benson said. “It was a great reminder of Lee.”
Oredigger interim coach Sean Ryan, who played under LaBreche, also had his old coach on his mind.
“I wish Lee was here in person,” Ryan said, “but he was here in spirit.”
Benson’s career path went just as LaBreche predicted when he signed the Billings Senior star.
“Sean will be a factor for us starting next fall,” LaBreche said when announcing the signing of Benson in March of 2015. “He is an exceptional student and is a perfect fit for Montana Tech and the golf program.”
Benson came through on the coach’s words by giving the school its first golf conference champion. He earned an automatic bid to the NAIA National Championships, which are May 21-24 at the Las Sendas Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona.
Benson shot 35-36 on the final round. That followed a 71 on Monday and a 70 on Tuesday. He took a seven-shot lead over Jonny Cielak of the University of Providence into the final round. Cielak placed third at 222 after a final-round 74.
“I was steady,” Benson said, “very steady.”
Michael Tait of Rocky Mountain College finished fourth at 226, while Samuel Berry of Carroll College and Devin Bray of MSU-Northern tied for fifth at 227.
Tech Trey Hoagland and Oredigger junior Sean Ramsbacher tied for 10th place at 232. Hoagland, a Butte High graduate, shot a final round 73. Ramsbacher hit 78.
Also for the Orediggers, senior Jimmy Amundson tied for 14th at 235, and sophomore Bridger Martin took 23rd at 246.
“We’re really excited for Sean and for all the men and women,” Ryan said.
As a team, Rocky fired a 294 on the final round to win the league title at 903. Tech, which shot 300 on Wednesday, placed second at 911.
Lewis-Clark State placed third at 931, followed by Providence at 938, Carroll at 956 and MSU-Northern at 1,019.
The Oredigger women placed third in team standings.
Rocky led the way, shooting a final-round 325 for a 968 total. Lewis-Clark State took second at 994, while the Orediggers finished at 1,093 after Wednesday’s 363.
Carroll took fourth at 1,000, followed by Providence at 1,111 and Northern at 1,201.
Marissa Louder of Lewis-Clark State beat Eryn Ellis of Rocky Mountain College in a playoff to claim medalist honors on the women’s side. Both finished at 232 over three days. Louder shot a 78 on Wednesday. Ellis hit 79.
Rocky’s Hayden Flohr, Morgan O’Neill and Anna DeMars finished third through fifth at 245, 246 and 248.
Sophomore Tanna Campbell shot a final-round 82 to tie for ninth place at 261. Oredigger senior Hailey Ogolin took 17th at 276, while Ashten McCloskey hit 91 to tie for 19th at 277.
Also for the Tech women, sophomore Kelsey Parker took 22nd at 287, and junior Lynzee Dexter finished 23rd at 289.