Amateur Sam Bennett surges to the top of 2023 Masters leaderboard: ‘I can go out and win’

AUGUSTA, Ga. — If there was any question about how legitimate Sam Bennett’s impressive debut at the Masters Tournament was, the Texas A&M senior answered it quickly Friday at Augusta National Golf Club.

The U.S. Amateur champion birdied the first hole for the second day in a row and put together another immaculate round of 68 as he closed out a weather-shortened Friday at 8 under in third place — earning an invitation to speak in the Interview Room.

Bennett had never heard of the late Ken Venturi until this week, but the 23-year-old’s score of 136 over the first two rounds was just a shot off Venturi’s amateur record set in 1956, when he finished second to Jack Burke Jr.

“Everybody coming into the week was, ‘I hope you get low (amateur).’ That’s pretty much all they were saying. I just wanted to put two good rounds up. I knew my golf was good enough to compete out here,” said Bennett, who is No. 6 in the world amateur ranking. “I found myself in a situation that now I’ve got a golf tournament that I can go out and win.”

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Bennett was laser-focused once again and followed his bogey-free first round by playing the first perfectly, lacing an approach to 14 feet and rolling in the birdie putt.

He showed he was human on the par-3 fourth, making his first, and only, bogey of the tournament so far as he missed the green and failed to get up and down. But he rallied on the par-5 8th, with a precise chip from the front of the green to a foot for a kick-in birdie. He followed with another birdie on No. 9, dialing in one to two feet with a stellar approach.

He laid up on No. 13 and knocked another wedge to five feet and converted the birdie putt, before hitting another great shot into the par-4 14th, and making his longest putt of the day, from 22 feet, for his final birdie.

Texas A&M golf coach Brian Kortan is on the bag for Bennett, just like he was for the U.S. Amateur win at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey last August. He said Bennett had an array of impressive shots once again Friday.

“The first tee shot, getting that one out of the way was big, and they were all impressive,” Kortan said. “Those little wedge shots on No. 13 and No. 15 that everyone thinks are just little automatic shots, and those are tough little shots, but there’s a lot of nerve-wracking stuff out there.

“When his head is down and he’s not seeing everything around him and just plays golf, he’s really good at what he does.”

Bennett could be the first amateur to finish in the top 20 since Ryan Moore was tied for 13th in 2005, and he’s the first amateur to make the cut since 2020. He was playing with fellow Texan and defending Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, as well as top-five player Max Homa, in front of a huge gallery that included his mom, brother and sister-in-law, his grandparents and a large contingent of Aggie friends from College Station.

“Sam called this a long time ago when he was when he was young and I always told him, ‘If you believe it, and dream it, just do it,” his mother, Stacy Bennett, said after watching Sam birdie No. 13. “He’s always just worked really hard. He’s pretty laid back like his late dad and he’s just enjoying it, just taking it all in. He plays really well when he’s relaxed and that’s what he has done.”

Bennett’s father, Mark, died in 2021 after a battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Bennett has a tattoo of some inspiring words from his dad.

“It was before he passed, I got it tattooed on my left arm. So I see it every time I’m gripping the club, it’s right there, ‘Don’t wait to do something,’ ” Bennett said. “You know, I thrive on it. 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.”

Bennett’s older brother, Marcus, 28, was there with his wife, rooting his brother on.

“This is like a dream, that’s the only way to put this into words,” Marcus Bennett said. “Coming in, we thought the course might play really long for him, but on Thursday he must of got some adrenaline going because he was hitting his drives 20 yards farther than usual. He had six drives over 300 yards. After what he did yesterday, we stopped thinking about winning the Low Amateur and started thinking about how far he can take this thing.”

Now Bennett is ready to take the next step in his incredible Augusta journey.

“I think I am prepared. The hard work’s done. I made the cut as an amateur. I kind of made my mark. I played steady golf. Now it’s time for me to go out and enjoy, soak it all in, be able to play the weekend at the Masters,” Bennett said. “I mean, growing up as a kid, if you would have told me that, I would have said you’re probably crazy.

“To be honest, I don’t think I’ll be too nervous out there come the weekend. I’ll just be out there enjoying it, soaking it in. If I play good, I play good and if I play bad, I go back to my home school and compete in my home tournament Thursday.”

Dennis Knight covers sports for the Savannah Morning News. Contact him at Twitter: @DennisKnightSMN

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