AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Sam Bennett wants to be known for more than the tattoo he carries on his left forearm, the poignant story of his late father that led to it, and the ever-present advice it offers that has carried him around Augusta National.
“Don’t wait to do something,” the tattoo reads. Signed, “Pops.”
“Yeah,” Bennett said, “it’s a great story. Incredible. But I want to start talking about golf more than what’s happened to me.”
What’s been happening to Bennett at the Masters this week has been just as incredible.
Before weather warnings and fallen trees halted play on Friday, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion matched his opening-round 68 with another one, sending him shooting up those old-timey leaderboards scattered around the property. For a long stretch, about the time play was first delayed by a passing storm, Bennett was alone in second place behind four-time major winner Brooks Koepka.
His score of 8 under is the second-best 36-hole score by an amateur at the Masters behind only Ken Venturi, who was one shot better in 1956. When play was suspended for the day on Friday, Bennett was third — behind Koepka and Jon Rahm (9 under). Venturi led through three rounds before an 80 on Sunday left him one shot back of winner Jack Burke Jr.
Asked if Venturi’s name resonated with Bennett, he replied: “I don’t even know if he’s won any majors, or what majors.”
It was the only time Bennett looked uncomfortable all day.
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 7, 2023
After his bogey-free opening round, his only slip-up Friday came at the long par-3 fourth, when his tee shot wound up against the grandstand. Bennett got a free drop and ran his chip by the hole, then missed the par putt coming back.
He more than made up for the mistake: Bennett birdied the tough first hole for the second straight day, pitched close for a tap-in birdie at the eighth, knocked it close for another at the ninth, then had two more birdies on the back nine.
The first came after Bennett’s tee shot found the pine needles to the right of No. 13, he wisely laid up short and zipped his approach close for a short birdie putt. At the next hole, with the ball awkwardly below his feet, Bennett used the contours of the green for a backstop on his approach, setting up another birdie putt that he drained with confidence.
“Sam’s a tremendous player,” said defending champion Scottie Scheffler, who played the first two rounds with him. “ I know how nervous he must have felt out there on first tee being an amateur. It’s just a different feeling.”
Helping him deal with those nerves is Brian Kortan, the good-natured golf coach at Texas A&M. Kortan is the one that’s been climbing into a set of those familiar white overalls and serving as Bennett’s caddie for the week.
“Yeah, he’s funny. I can talk to him about anything,” Bennett said. “I mean, literally anything I want. He’s like my second father. So we’re having fun out there. I know he’s pretty tired in that caddie suit. He lets you know, too.”
Nothing will replace Bennett’s father, though. That’s the whole point of the tattoo.
Mark Bennett fought early onset Alzheimer’s for eight years before passing away in 2021 at the age of 45. The year before, when Mark’s speech was failing, he offered his son some advice: “Don’t wait to do something.”
It resonated with Sam. He wanted to remember it. So he asked his father to write the words on a scrap of paper. It took a while because his mom, Stacy, had to remind Mark how to craft each letter, but he shakily finished and signed it, “Pops.”
Yet paper is largely impermanent; tattoos are not. That’s why the 23-year-old has it inked on his forearm these days.
“I see it every time I’m gripping the club. It’s right there,” 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.”
What he’s been doing is verging on historic.
The youngster has had one lesson, way back in seventh grade, and vowed never to get a swing coach to smooth out his unorthodox swing. But he’s hanging with — and beating — the best players in the world. Through two rounds, Bennett was seven shots better than Scheffler, 12 ahead of Bryson DeChambeau and 13 clear of Rory McIlroy.
What would Bennett’s pop think now?
“He’s never cared about golf scores or anything,” his son replied. “He could care less if I went out there first round and shot 80, as long as I was doing the right things, treating people the right way, being a gentleman. He would think this is cool, what I have to come on the weekend, but more so the guy I’ve become, he would be appreciative of.”