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Cool Hand Luke: Just who is Masters contender Sam Bennett?
07 Apr 2023
by Sean Melia of AmateurGolf.com

see also: The Masters Tournament, Augusta National Golf Club, Sam Bennett Rankings, Sam Bennett Profile

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Sam Bennett and Scottie Scheffler (Masters)
Sam Bennett and Scottie Scheffler (Masters)

Sam Bennett stood surrounded by young fans and media members at Ridgewood Country Club. He had just beaten Nick Gabrelcik on the 19th hole in the round of 64 in the U.S. Amateur Championship.

The match reached the 19th hole because Bennett missed a five-foot putt on the 18th hole to win. He didn't waste any time bouncing back, making birdie on the first extra hole after spinning a wedge shot to gimme range.

As he spoke, Bennett was reveling in the battle he just won. He loves competition and he might love winning more.

He also pays very close attention to what others think of him.

"I think just knowing that I belong and that I'm one of the best players out here -- sometimes I get overlooked," Bennett said that evening at Ridgewood. "I know Brentley Romine and some other guys mentioned me as a favorite, and I was like, what, 3 in WAGR, cut at the U.S. Open. I've got a little chip on my shoulder, but I'm good where I'm at."

Bennett would go on to tear through one of the strongest brackets anyone could conjure up in amateur golf on his way to hoisting the golden Havemeyer Trophy. Gabrelcik, Fred Biondi, David Puig, Stewart Hagestad, Dylan Menante, and Ben Carr.

Earlier in the summer of 2022, Bennett qualified for the U.S. Open and made the cut at The Country Club. Bennett was in the hunt for low amateur that week, but Travis Vick edged out his fellow Texan by two shots.

This week at The Masters, Bennett once again came in under the radar. Gordon Sargent, the 19-year-old special exemption and NCAA individual champion with prodigious length had the media making grand claims about his chances to contend.

One can only imagine Bennett feeling slighted once again, that chip on his shoulder growing bigger and bigger.

Now, Bennett is the belle of the ball. He made only one bogey through 36 holes at Augusta National, an incredible feat. And it's the first time since 1958 that an amateur has stood in second place after 36 holes at The Masters.

HOW DID HE GET HERE? Bennett's attitude might come from his small-town Texas upbringing. His hometown of Madisonville, Texas has a population of about 4,500 people. It's about 100 miles north of Houston.

His swing looks homemade, too. He contorts himself through impact, highlighting incredible flexibility. He took one golf lesson in the seventh grade, and that was it. Bennett has the aura of the kid that won every game on the playground in school. The kid that dominated P.E. class, not with brawn, but with guile, confounding his opponents.

Bennett didn't specialize in golf, either. He competed in multiple sports in high school, collecting a bevy of honors. He was named first-team All-District in basketball from 2015-17 and Freshman of the Year in 2015.

In baseball, he was honored as the 2017 Defensive MVP and Academic All-State. And get this. Bennett also played tennis and won the 2016 district championship and the doubles title.

Last year, Bennett could have finished off his career at Texas A&M, but instead, he remained an Aggie for a fifth year, taking advantage of an extra year of eligibility. It paid off, as he wouldn't be in the field at Augusta if he had entered the pro ranks.

Bennett's life hasn't been all awards and accolades. He lost his father tragically to Alzheimer's in 2021. He's spoken honestly about the challenge of losing a pillar in his life. A tattoo on his forearm that says, "Don't wait to do something," memorializes the last piece of advice his father gifted his son. In the wake of his father's death, Bennett has been open about seeking help and therapy to work through his emotions.

He's certainly not waiting this week at Augusta National.

That day at Ridgewood, in the waning light, Bennett knew exactly who he was, and now the rest of the golfing world is catching up.

Sam Bennett's College and Amateur Golf Accolades:

122nd U.S Amateur Champion
2022 PING First Team All-American
2022 PING All-Central Region Team
2022 SEC Golfer of the Year
2022 Fred Haskins Award Finalist
2022 Arnold Palmer Cup (Team USA)
2022 Ben Hogan Award Finalist
2022 PING First Team All-American
2021 Spirit International Amateur team and individual champion
2021 All-SEC First Team
2021 Arnold Palmer Cup (Team USA)
2021 Ben Hogan Award semifinalist
2021 GCAA All-Nicklaus Team
2021 PING All-America Team
2020 PING All-Central Region Team
2019-2020 All-SEC Team
2020 SEC Academic Honor Roll
2020 SEC All-Freshman Team

A FINAL NOTE

Here's a story about Sam Bennett from the 2021 Spirit International Amateur. It says a lot.

At the prestigious Spirit International Amateur, Bennett represented The USA on the boy's side with James Piot (Rachel Heck and Rose Zhang were the women's side.) In the final round, Bennett reached into his bag for his 60-degree wedge on the first hole. He noticed teammate Rachel Heck's 58-degree wedge among his clubs. That extra club put him at 15 clubs, resulting in a two-stroke penalty and double bogey on his opening hole.

How did Bennett react?

“I told myself stay patient, and just get to even par through five because you have two par fives on that stretch and I was able to do that,” Bennett said. “And then I was off and running.”

For Bennett, how the club got into his bag didn’t matter. He had a job to do and he got to work, clawing his way back into contention, making seven birdies in his next fourteen holes on his way to the individual title. Team USA won as well.

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