It’s strange to think that the U.S. Amateur champion has twice had to ask everyone to put some respect on his name.
As soon as he won his round of 64 match at Ridgewood Country Club, the top-ten-ranked amateur made it clear he knew where he stood with the media (hint: nowhere near the top). For his Masters debut, all the amateur attention went to Gordon Sargent, the NCAA champion with mind-boggling swing speed and length.
Sam Bennett would never formally ask anyone to put any respect on his name. But he’ll show and tell you just how he feels. First, it was with his control off-the-tee. His methodical play. His most unlikely of putts.
“Everybody coming into this week was (saying), yeah, hope you get Low Am. That’s pretty much all they were saying,” Bennett said. “I just wanted to put two good rounds up. I knew my golf was good enough to compete out here.”
Carding the first bogey-free opening round by an amateur in 58 years, his follow-up on Friday only contained one blemish. Two back-to-back rounds of 68 from someone with an amateur designation can seem surprising, especially when they’re solo third by day’s end.
Truly, no part of either his U.S. Amateur campaign or Masters is really all that unbelievable. But if this week is his formal introduction, it necessitates a lot more context.
He knows. “I'm more than what's happened to me and what I've been through. So it comes up a lot, and I'm ready for it to stop coming up quite as much,” Bennett said after his second round on Friday.
You’ve probably heard about how Bennett is a small-town kid who grew up on a 9-hole course in Madisonville, Texas. You’ve also probably heard about the loss of his father to Alzheimer's, who used his last written words to write “Don’t wait to do something” on his wrist. You’ve now seen the NIL logos dressed over his lack of a “pretty swing” (his words).
Truthfully, any idea of complication has found Sam Bennett — he’s never been one to chase it. He’s had one swing lesson in his life, back in middle school, and despite the public balking at his motion, vows to never employ a swing coach. If it’s not inherently broken, he figures, no reason to fix it.
Had he turned professional with Korn Ferry Tour status waiting for him last summer, or if he’d burned himself out with the amateur reps instead of playing golf with his closest friends at Traditions Golf Course, the dreams of the U.S. Amateur or the Masters would have never been his realities. Of course, that decision was made not knowing any of this would happen.
“I love college golf,” he said on Friday. “Being with my teammates, eating a filet mignon for free every night, just all of it. Traveling to México, Cabo, Hawaii, it's been great.”
This deliberately slower pace is intentional, even when it doesn’t have to do with golf. A few months after he won the Havemeyer, after some time spent back at school (only 40 minutes from home), he was invited to be honored in front of a packed Kyle Field at a Texas A&M game. It’d been his biggest ceremony yet – far bigger than the audience he had for the biggest accomplishment in his career.
Once again, everything sped up. His room became a mess, too. In a moment of trying to control all of his chaos, he realized the anxieties of his daily life had physically manifested. Why rush such a simple task? He stopped himself, put on some music, and intently caught up on laundry.
“I always tell my buddies to slow down and enjoy it all – look around, say hello, just the little things. It’s always helped me stay patient in a sense, I guess,” he said at the time.
Shortly after the U.S. Amateur, he decided his head coach Brian Kortan, his right hand all week long at Ridgewood, would co-star at the Masters. His self-proclaimed second dad was the only person in his corner who witnessed the entire week – another purposeful move, to maintain his focus. Kortan, (Bennett prefers to address him by surname), hasn’t missed a beat at Augusta National.
In a token of appreciation, perhaps, Kortan’s player has had one collegiate victory since that fateful August. He broke Texas A&M's 18-hole scoring record with a final round 61 at an event in Hawaii. But for someone who cares so much about his own game, the history part seems to feel like a footnote in the context of his own enjoyment.
“I wasn’t thinking of any record,” he said after his first round at the Masters, admittedly unfamiliar with Ken Venturi’s amateur scoring record. “I was just trying to stack shots and give myself some looks and keep it under the hole, which I did.”
In the months that followed his U.S. Amateur victory, Bennett’s Havemeyer Trophy hadn’t traveled too far. Not because he didn’t appreciate it; it just wasn’t his speed. It’d seen the football field, and he toyed with the idea of taking it out to the bars, but it spent a lot of time sat by his Christmas tree – just how he preferred.
In plain sight seems to be the Green Jacket, which tends to see a lot more places. In front of the 23-year-old are two professionals: Brooks Koepka, who is seeking major championship redemption after a years-long drought, and Jon Rahm, who, like Bennett, is a USGA champion; albeit one that comes with a larger purse. Should Sam Bennett happen to add the Green Jacket to his wardrobe, who knows where it will go? Unlike Koepka and Rahm, the novice already knows to spend a little more time doing his laundry.
At the end of his Friday press conference, the starry-eyed, giddy amateur slipped out. “I think the hard part’s done,” Bennett said. “I made the cut as an amateur. I kinda made my mark. I played steady golf. Now it’s time for me to go out and enjoy, soak it all in, and be able to play the weekend at the Masters.”
But Sam Bennett, in contention at the Masters, will return after his long-awaited round three begins.
“I found myself in a situation where Low Am is out of the equation, (and) I’ve got a golf tournament that I can go out and win.”