Timing is everything in college recruiting, and Bennett Swavely's timing after winning the WSGA State Junior Boys Championship last summer was, in his words, "very weird" and a bit unfortunate.
"COVID-19 really impacted everything in my recruiting process," the rising senior from Hudson wrote in an email interview with Wisconsin.Golf of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that canceled his 2020 high school season ahead of a summer during which NCAA Division I coaches have been in a "dead period" for recruiting. "Coaches didn't get the opportunity to watch me play at the end of (the 2019) season and they didn't get to see me play in my winter tournament due to a broken wrist. I had a good amount of schools that were going to watch me play this spring ... then early into the summer, but that all got canceled."
Fortunately for Swavely, his WSGA Junior Boys breakthrough victory last August resulted in emails and text messages "from coaches all over" that continued until last month when he made his oral commitment to attend the University of Minnesota and play golf for Gophers coach John Smith. Swavely said he chose Minnesota, located 35 minutes from his home in Hudson, over interest from three other Big Ten schools — Illinois, Nebraska and the University of Wisconsin, whose coach Michael Burcin was the only college coach to see Swavely play in person.
Swavely follows the path from western Wisconsin across the Minnesota border most recently taken by Chippewa Falls' Thomas Longbella, who will use COVID-19 extra eligibility this fall to return for a fifth season with the Gophers. It will also mean Wisconsin will have golfers on three Big Ten rosters for at least the next three years with Samuel Anderson of Stoughton, Jack Blair of Wauwatosa, Cameron Huss of Kenosha and Robbie Morway of Mequon at UW and Piercen Hunt of Hartland at Illinois, starting this fall.
"From the start, I knew the whole time I wanted to stay in the Big Ten," wrote Swavely, who was able to visit Minnesota, UW and St. Thomas (Minn.) — the Tommies received NCAA approval Wednesday to make the unprecedented jump from Division III to Division I starting with the 2021-22 school year — before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down on-campus visits.
"I fell in love with everything Minnesota had to offer. After several phone calls with Coach Smith and (assistant coach Matt) Rachey, I made my decision to go to Minnesota because the culture and the vision that they have created is something I really wanted to be a part of. Also, the ease of access to the practice facility while I'm at home in Wisconsin was another big reason."
Swavely, who grew up in a basketball home with a father and grandfather who were successful high school coaches, started playing competitive golf at age 13, mostly in Minnesota PGA Junior events. He switched to an all-Wisconsin schedule in 2019 — competing in the Ray Fischer Amateur Championship in Janesville and qualifiers for the Wisconsin State Amateur (missed it) and Wisconsin State Open (made it, but couldn't compete at Lake Geneva) in and around his victory at the WSGA Junior Boys in New Glarus.
It was at Edelweiss Chalet Country Club in New Glarus where Swavely first made a name for himself. He shot 70-73-73 to top Badgers recruit Cameron Huss of Kenosha by three strokes, earning himself a spot on Team Wisconsin for this week's Wisconsin/Minnesota Junior Cup Matches in Stevens Point and for the Wisconsin State Amateur later this month at Milwaukee CC.
And now? Swavely can't wait for the chance to compete for the Gophers after he graduates high school next spring.
"One thing that really stood out to me is the team camaraderie," Swavely wrote. "I wanted to go to a school where every kid is wanting to get better and wanting to see the program get better. I wanted to go somewhere where the kids were going to push me and I know my future teammates will do that."
Swavely, who plans to explore a business-related major, was as impressed with the academic resources and facilities as much as he was those used by the men's golf program. That's saying a lot because the Gophers unveiled in January 2019 the John W. Mooty Golf Facility, a state-of-the-art indoor facility that will give Swavely the chance to sharpen his game year-round. They also continue to play at a dozen top Minneapolis-area courses, including Hazeltine National GC in Chaska (site of the 2016 and 2029 Ryder Cup as well as two PGA Championships and two U.S. Opens), TPC Twin Cities (site of the 3M Championship on the PGA Tour) and Interlachen CC (host of the 2002 Solheim Cup).
"(Coach) Smith has really turned the program around and is making it a top team in the country," Swavely wrote. "Every sport at The U is trending in the right direction and that's fun to see. Me personally, I want to make an immediate impact. I want to compete for a starting spot."
With as many as four seniors graduating after this season? Swavely's timing couldn't be better.