The Masters: Sam Bennett’s story captured American hearts

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The Masters: Sam Bennett’s story captured American hearts

There were, as his mother Stacy said, 'big, big, big' tears from Sam Bennett on the 18th green at Augusta on Sunday afternoon. The 23-year-old ha

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There were, as his mother Stacy said, ‘big, big, big’ tears from Sam Bennett on the 18th green at Augusta on Sunday afternoon. 

The 23-year-old had sensationally blazed his way into Masters contention at Augusta last week and as the weather turned and one of the most fabled courses in golf showed its teeth, Bennett stepped up and made himself at home.

He earned the massive cheers and applause he received as he walked down that final fairway. It’s a stroll that sends most golfers into a state of reflection but for Bennett, as he observed the crowds celebrating his achievement, he would have taken a moment to look down at the tattoo his left wrist.

‘Don’t wait to do something’ – some of the final words Bennett’s father Mark wrote down to his son, before his death in June 2021 from early-onset Alzheimer’s, have become famous around the world thanks to his son’s success.

‘From growing up as a kid watching this tournament to losing my dad to the struggles I’ve faced and still face, to be able to walk up that green on 18 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 said.

Sam Bennett showed the world what he was made of by winning low amateur at the Masters

Sam Bennett showed the world what he was made of by winning low amateur at the Masters

Sam Bennett showed the world what he was made of by winning low amateur at the Masters

Sam dealt with family tragedy with the loss of his father to Alzheimer's at the age of just 53

Sam dealt with family tragedy with the loss of his father to Alzheimer's at the age of just 53

Sam dealt with family tragedy with the loss of his father to Alzheimer’s at the age of just 53 

Bennett said he felt a wave of emotion walking up the 18th fairway at Augusta on Sunday

Bennett said he felt a wave of emotion walking up the 18th fairway at Augusta on Sunday

Bennett said he felt a wave of emotion walking up the 18th fairway at Augusta on Sunday

Bennett, the US Amateur champion, doesn’t have to wait much longer now. His time is almost here. He will be at the US Open and Open Championship later this year, and it is only a question of timing as to when he turns professional.

Any golfer bidding to tackle Augusta needs a smart caddie on the bag and it seems the 23-year-old Bennett had an especially good one in Texas A&M coach Brian Kortan, who appears to have stepped up as an unofficial father figure.

‘Sam has had some mental health struggles and he’s talked about that before,’ Stacy said to golfweek. ‘Coach (Kortan) helps him to level out and be calm, teaching him how to calm that anxiety. He’s been really just a rock, he really has, especially this week.’

Less is known about Bennett’s girlfriend, Harper Walding. They keep a low profile but will inevitably be preparing for the increased interest in their partnership after the whirlwind week at Augusta. Walding is a diver at Texas A&M, where Bennett has played college golf. Bennett has just 112,000 followers on Instagram and at the time of writing, less than 10,000 on Twitter. Soon, those numbers will spiral alongside the interest in how he and Walding spend their time together away from sport.

He has a strong inner circle of support around him. Bennett has also spoken to a psychologist since 2020 and has taken antidepressants to help combat anxiety. He once told the golf channel: ‘I was tired of feeling that way, and I knew that I wanted to live a happy life.’

And for many years before tragedy struck Bennett had exactly that. Raised in the Texas town of Madisonville – a few hours north of Houston – he was a multi-sport athlete growing up. He played tennis, basketball, and baseball for Madisonville High School and was successful in all three sports. Bennett was named first-team All-District in basketball for three seasons straight and won the Freshman of the Year award in 2015. 

In baseball, he was a defensive phenom. In tennis, he won a district championship in 2016 and a doubles championship. As his mom told golfchannel: ‘There wasn’t much he couldn’t do’. But golf was where he found his calling.

Bennett grew up successful in many sports - including baseball, basketball, and tennis

Bennett grew up successful in many sports - including baseball, basketball, and tennis

Bennett grew up successful in many sports – including baseball, basketball, and tennis

Bennett's girlfriend Harper Walding (right) forms a close part of his inner circle of support

Bennett's girlfriend Harper Walding (right) forms a close part of his inner circle of support

Bennett’s girlfriend Harper Walding (right) forms a close part of his inner circle of support

Bennett's caddie, Texas A&M coach Brian Kortan (left), has been a major influence on him

Bennett's caddie, Texas A&M coach Brian Kortan (left), has been a major influence on him

Bennett’s caddie, Texas A&M coach Brian Kortan (left), has been a major influence on him

He committed to play his college golf just 40 minutes southwest in College Station – home to Texas A&M. ‘I love my family. I didn’t want to be far,’ Bennett said of that decision but there was deeper, underlying motive with his father’s health.

In 2013, before Bennett got to high school, his father Mark was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

As the years went by, he saw his father deteriorate further and further. Mark lost his ability to communicate, becoming a shell of the Air Force veteran and dentist that taught him to play the game he loved.

By 2020, with Bennett’s father on the decline, he offered his son some advice. 

‘I was struggling mentally with some things,’ Bennett said. ‘He told me, “Don’t wait to do something.” That was the last advice given to me before everything went south.’ 

The following summer, in 2021, Mark Bennett passed away. 

In high school, Bennett chose to play golf just 40 minutes down the road at Texas A&M

In high school, Bennett chose to play golf just 40 minutes down the road at Texas A&M

In high school, Bennett chose to play golf just 40 minutes down the road at Texas A&M

While in college, Bennett's father Mark passed away in 2021 due to early-onset Alzheimer's

While in college, Bennett's father Mark passed away in 2021 due to early-onset Alzheimer's

While in college, Bennett’s father Mark passed away in 2021 due to early-onset Alzheimer’s 

Sam relied on coaches and family - including his mother Stacey - in dealing with the tragedy

Sam relied on coaches and family - including his mother Stacey - in dealing with the tragedy

Sam relied on coaches and family – including his mother Stacey – in dealing with the tragedy

Sam turned to his college coach Kortan for support, as he had also lost his father at a young age. 

That, alongside help from professionals, granted Bennett the ability to better ‘calm his overactive mind, channel his nervous energy and process his new reality.’

‘I know he’s not sick anymore and not struggling,’ Bennett said. ‘That gives me peace.’

As is now so very well know, Sam had the message of advice from his father tattooed on his left forearm.

‘He was the reason why I started playing golf and why I wanted to be good to impress him,’ Bennett told GolfChannel.com. ‘[Looking at the tattoo] is like a new pre-shot routine that I do now right before I’m about to hit it. 

‘I look at it and I’m like “don’t wait to do something.” It’s something that will always stick and he means the world to me.’

Bennett sought help with his mental health, saw a sports psychologist, took antidepressants, and eventually got to a better place where he's 'at peace' because his dad's 'not sick anymore'

Bennett sought help with his mental health, saw a sports psychologist, took antidepressants, and eventually got to a better place where he's 'at peace' because his dad's 'not sick anymore'

Bennett sought help with his mental health, saw a sports psychologist, took antidepressants, and eventually got to a better place where he’s ‘at peace’ because his dad’s ‘not sick anymore’

To honor his father, Bennett got the last piece of advice Mark gave him tattooed on his arm

To honor his father, Bennett got the last piece of advice Mark gave him tattooed on his arm

To honor his father, Bennett got the last piece of advice Mark gave him tattooed on his arm

While he was dealing with the aftermath of his father’s death, Bennett was putting up impressive results at Texas A&M. By his junior season, he was named to the All-SEC team twice and earned All-American honors in 2021. 

Sam was named to the American team at the 2021 Arnold Palmer Cup – made up of teams of men and women playing at the collegiate level from the United States and around the world. Bennett made the team again in 2022 – with the USA beating Team International by the same score both times: 33-27.

In his senior season in 2022, he was named SEC Player of the Year and was a finalist for the Fred Haskins Award, which is given to the best collegiate golfer in the nation.  

The Masters wasn’t even the first major that Bennett had played in. Through qualifying at the Kinsale Golf and Fitness Club as well as the Wedgewood Golf and Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, Bennett made one of the 12 spots to make the 2022 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.

In Brookline, Bennett made the cut and finished tied for 49th at a score of +10 alongside Patrick Reed, Sam Stevens, and David Lingmerth – better than established pros like last week’s runner-up Brooks Koepka, and Bryson DeChambeau.

Bennet made multiple All-SEC teams and was listed as an All-American in his junior year

Bennet made multiple All-SEC teams and was listed as an All-American in his junior year

Bennet made multiple All-SEC teams and was listed as an All-American in his junior year

Bennett competed in his first major after making it through qualifiers to the 2022 U.S. Open

Bennett competed in his first major after making it through qualifiers to the 2022 U.S. Open

Bennett competed in his first major after making it through qualifiers to the 2022 U.S. Open

Bennett won the 122nd U.S. Amateur at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey

Bennett won the 122nd U.S. Amateur at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey

Bennett won the 122nd U.S. Amateur at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey

At the end of the summer of 2022, Bennett played at Ridgewood in the 122nd U.S. Amateur. After two days of stroke play, Bennett went on to a knockout match-play and won the whole thing, beating Ben Carr in the final. 

It was the victory that gave him his Masters ticket, as well as entry to the 2023 U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club and the 2023 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

Bennett was paired with reigning Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and the world’s fifth-best golfer Max Homa. 

On round one, Bennett bested Homa and finished tied with Scheffler – shooting 68 for a score of four-under. In the same pairing for the second round, he shot 68 again to best both his senior compatriots and go into the third round at -8.

Two bogey-free rounds to begin at Augusta was quite the way to introduce himself at the global stage.

As the weather turned and the attention on him increased, Bennett 76-74 in his last two rounds to finish at two-under for the tournament.

But eventually, his luck ran out and the weather began playing a major role in how the tournament shaped out. 

With inclement weather and rain soaking the grounds, Bennett shot 76-74 in his last two rounds to finish at two-under for the tournament. He was tied 16th among impressive company like Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama and other major winners Shane Lowry and Justin Rose.

Bennett's Amateur victory gave him his ticket to the Masters and two other Major tournaments

Bennett's Amateur victory gave him his ticket to the Masters and two other Major tournaments

Bennett’s Amateur victory gave him his ticket to the Masters and two other Major tournaments

Even after his success, Bennett returned to Texas A&M for a fifth year to get his degree

Even after his success, Bennett returned to Texas A&M for a fifth year to get his degree

Even after his success, Bennett returned to Texas A&M for a fifth year to get his degree

Thanks to his accomplishments, Bennett received automatic entry into The Masters

Thanks to his accomplishments, Bennett received automatic entry into The Masters

Thanks to his accomplishments, Bennett received automatic entry into The Masters

By virtue of being the only amateur to make the cut, he was crowned as the Low Amateur for the tournament. His tie for 16th was the best finish by an amateur at Augusta since Ryan Moore finished T-13 in 2005.

With two major championship appearances behind him, and two more in front of him, there’s a lot going for Sam Bennett. He returned to Texas A&M for a fifth year this previous fall so he could officially graduate. 

Now, with a degree in his possession and success supporting him, Bennett can move forward towards a steadily approaching PGA Tour career. His star is going to rise and while his amateur status meant he could not pocket the $261,000 that Matsuyama, Lowry and Rose took home, he stands to compete for millions every week when he does turn pro.

With his support system around him, there’s nowhere for Sam Bennett to go but up and fulfill the potential that is demanded by the words his father said years ago: don’t wait to do something.

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