Sam Bennett’s emotions finally got the best of him in the fading light of a spectacularly beautiful Sunday afternoon at the Masters. The kid from Madisonville, a fifth-year senior at Texas A&M, had held it together for four days, but as the ovations grew louder and louder as he neared the end of his final round of play, the magnitude of his accomplishment appeared to dawn on him.
There were no tears until the very end. Only when he walked from Augusta National’s eighteenth hole—sacred ground for golfers—for the final time, when he saw his mom and brother waiting for him, when memories of hours spent on courses with his late father came flooding back, was he unable to hold back. “From growing up as a kid watching this tournament, to losing my dad, to the struggles I’ve faced,” he said later, “to be able to walk up that green on eighteen on a Sunday, Easter Sunday, and just be appreciative of everything, I thought—I mean, if you had told me I was going to be here when I was a kid, I would have thought you were crazy.”
Bennett spoke those words during what must have felt like a dream inside Butler Cabin, where tournament organizers were honoring him as the low amateur in the 2023 Masters. He was seated next to the 2023 champion, Jon Rahm, who received his green jacket (symbolic of a Masters win) from last year’s champ, another Texan, Scottie Scheffler.
Until Sunday, Bennett, 23, had been the story of the Masters, taming the most famous course on earth with back-to-back rounds of 68 that had him in third place. He shot a 32 on the front nine of his first Masters, tying the lowest mark ever for an amateur at the tournament. He finished Thursday with twelve straight pars. That Augusta National would get the better of him over the final two rounds, as he shot 76 and 74 to finish in a tie for sixteenth place, meant he got the full Masters experience, just like thousands of the game’s best who came before him.
Later, Bennett would say those two opening rounds showed him he can play with anyone in the world when he turns pro, as he’s expected to do this summer. He’s just five ten and whipsaw thin, but his game has that rare combination of both power and finesse. (He made 93 percent of fairways in rounds one and two, far above the tournament average of about 75 percent. That number dropped to 57 percent for round four, with the field remaining steady at 74 percent.)
“His strength is he really doesn’t have a weakness,” A&M golf coach Brian Kortan said. “And when you don’t have a weakness, it sure makes it pretty easy to play golf wherever you go.” Kortan served as Bennett’s caddie at the Masters, alternately advising and encouraging him, joking with him, attempting to make time on the practice tee with Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson feel normal—because someday, it probably will be.
“My first drive down Magnolia Lane was pretty surreal,” Bennett told reporters after his practice round. “Once you get to the back nine, Amen Corner, I mean, it’s a different feel down there, down by Rae’s Creek. . . . When I first stepped on property and hit all the shots, it’s like I’ve kind of been here before, just from watching it so much and playing on video games.”
Augusta National wound up getting the better of him in the final two rounds, especially on Sunday, when he was forced to play thirty holes, finishing up the final twelve holes of round three before restarting another full eighteen for round four. “I think I need to get in a little better shape, get in the gym,” he said. “It was a long week for me, and then mix that in with my spring schedule . . . I just got a little worn out.”
Bennett’s backstory—some of it, at least—became a go-to story line in Augusta. He excelled in basketball, golf, and tennis at Madisonville High School, but he had a particular love of golf for the time it allowed him to spend with his father, Mark, a Madisonville dentist. “I started playing golf when—it had to have been, like, two years old, whenever I could walk and, you know, swing a club,” he said in a Texas A&M video. “There’s pictures of us when I was dressed up in my Masters logo and stuff, with plastic clubs. . . . I grew up playing at a nine-hole course—but, I mean, I was out there every day, from until I woke up until it got dark.”
Mark Bennett was just 45 when he diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in 2013. He died in 2021 at 53. “It got bad pretty quick,” Sam Bennett said. “The last two years were the worst years of our lives.” Near the end of Mark’s life, in what Sam remembered as a rare moment of lucidity, he told his son: “Don’t wait to do something.”
Sam Bennett asked his mom, Stacy, if her husband of 27 years could write those words on a sheet of paper, according to GolfChannel.com. She drew each letter, then watched for fifteen minutes as Mark attempted to copy them. Sam took the paper to a tattoo parlor and had his dad’s handwriting inked onto his left forearm. “He was the reason why I started playing golf and why I wanted to be good to impress him,” he said. He positioned the tattoo so he could see those words during his preshot routine.
“You know, I thrive on it,” he told reporters at the Masters. “I use it for some motivation. I know how happy he would be seeing me out here at Augusta National doing what I’m doing. You know, this week, I’ve used it to just stay focused and really be locked in to that one shot.
“He never cared about golf score or anything as long as . . . I was doing the right things and treating people the right way and being a real gentleman,” Bennett said. “He would think this would be cool. . . . But more so than anything, the guy that I’ve become, he would be appreciative of.”
Bennett has been open about dealing with anxiety and depression in the years since his dad’s diagnosis and subsequent death. “Everybody from the outside, you know, they see me winning, with all these pictures . . . all these accomplishments,” he said in the A&M video. “But they really don’t know how much of a day in, day [out] struggle it is dealing with some of these things. . . . As far as Dad, yeah, that’s probably the main thing, but there’s, you know, other stuff we deal with.” Ryan Pittsinger, A&M’s director of counseling and sports psychology, added: “Sam’s willingness to speak . . . shows a lot of courage. It shows a lot of strength. And I think that other student athletes have really used him as a model.”
The Masters wasn’t Bennett’s first taste of a major. He made the cut in last summer’s U.S. Open and finished in a tie for forty-ninth. Nor is this Masters likely to be his last—even though he still sounded pretty wide-eyed about the experience last weekend. “Playing the Masters on Sunday, I mean, that’s what every golfer dreams of, he said. “I was just happy to be able to do that.”