- Mar 15, 2023
Sam Bennett can't earn prize money at the Masters, but the amateur is getting big bucks this week thanks to NIL
Sam Bennett's amateur status might prevent him from collecting a big prize money payout for his first-page leaderboard performance at the Masters, but it doesn't mean he's going home empty handed. Not only is the fifth-year senior at Texas A&M a lock to be low amateur, but he's also probably secured seven figures in future name-image-likeness (NIL) endorsement money that college athletes and amateur golfers can now collect. That's according to NIL expert and sports attorney Luke Fedlam, whose Advance NIL advisory company works with college athletes, schools, and professional teams to navigate the endorsement space.
"The sort of television time Sam is getting today? The exposure his story is getting and the attention his social-media channels are getting? I'd estimate it will be worth at least in the high six figures—and probably seven figures—for him going forward," says Fedlam, a partner and the sports law chair at Porter Wright in Columbus, Ohio. "We've seen college athletes on television in events like football or the NCAA Tournament, but the opportunity to have brand deals in place and represent them in competition against the professionals on the biggest stage? This changes the metric.”
Bennett is the obvious beneficiary of his great play—shooting back-to-back 68s to get into third round final pairing with Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm on Saturday and Sunday—but the sponsors who signed up with him before the week started really won the lottery. Ping, Suncast, Johnnie O, Veritex Bank, and Cap Fleet are getting at least eight hours of prime Masters television exposure—and getting it in an advertising environment where other commercials are dramatically limited.
Bennett's logos are mostly competing with the ones on the other players in his group—not tournament spots with big on-course signage. "There's not only that television exposure value to a sponsor, but the fact that Bennett's underdog story is one that everybody wants to follow," Fedlam says. "He's inspiring fans to Google his name to see what he's about, which leads them to his social media channels, where he's been thanking his sponsors. Conservatively, that's been millions of dollars worth of exposure."
Indeed, Bennett’s story includes his inspiring but heartbreaking tattoo on his left forearm, an inscription that his dying father wrote to him before he passed away in 2021.
Golf hasn't had marquee NIL players like Texas football player Bijan Robinson or LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne, who have already made millions before their "professional" careers begin. But Fedlam says golf is ahead of many sports in the sense that the NIL game is one every player already plays.
"The sport is already used to its players trading their name, image, and likeness to endorse products," Fedlam says. "Pros have been wearing hats and logos for decades, and now college players stand to benefit from that. You know, other brands are going to be investigating amateur players who have the potential to get exposure in big tournaments because it presents the chance to get in for less investment and see a potentially huge return."
The featured groups for the first two days of the 2023 Masters are just as star-studded as most would expect, but there's one golfer whose name may not be familiar to the average golf fan.
That would be Sam Bennett.
Bennett is playing in just his second career major, but he will get a chance to tee off with world No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler and Max Homa as each vies for a green jacket. He will be one of the seven amateurs to play during the Masters, along with Ben Carr, Harrison Crowe, Mateo Fernandez De Oliveira, Matthew McClean, Aldrich Potgieter, and Gordon Sargent.
But who exactly is Sam Bennett, and what is his backstory? Here's what to know about the tattooed Texas golfer as he looks to prove himself on the sport's biggest stage.
Who is Sam Bennett?
Sam Bennett is a 23-year-old golfer who won the 2022 U.S. Amateur championship. That victory gave him exemptions into the 2023 Masters and 2023 Open Championship, both of which he has never played in before.
The Masters will be the second major tournament in which Bennett gets to play. He qualified for the 2022 U.S. Open and made the cut before ultimately tying for 49th after finishing 10-over for the tournament.
Sam Bennett's hometown, college, and family
Bennett grew up in Madisonville, Texas, and was the youngest of Stacy and Mark Bennett's three sons. He was an active golfer in his youth and eventually turned that skill into a college scholarship at nearby Texas A&M. He had trained at the school's home course, the Traditions Club, from age 13 onward, so it was only natural for him to attend school there, especially since it was close to home.
"I love my family," he told Golf Channel. "I didn’t want to be far."
Bennett wanted to be close to home partly because his father, Mark, was dealing with early-onset Alzheimer's disease — a progressive and incurable illness that causes memory loss. It had first been diagnosed during Sam Bennett's high school days, but Mark's health declined sharply while Sam was in college.
Sam leaned on his college coach Brian Kortan, who had lost his father at a young age, as part of his support system during Mark's sickness. Eventually, he also started taking antidepressants and seeing a sports psychologist in late 2020 to help him deal with persistent anxiety in his life.
“I was tired of feeling that way, and I knew that I wanted to live a happy life,” Bennett told Golf Channel.
That allowed Bennett to better "calm his overactive mind, channel his nervous energy and process his new reality" before his father's death in the summer of 2021.
“I know he’s not sick anymore and not struggling," Bennett said. "That gives me peace.”
Still, Bennett wanted to find a way to honor and remember his father. He decided that getting a tattoo would be the best way to do that.
Sam Bennett's tattoos
Bennett has a tattoo on his left forearm that reads, "Don't wait to do something."
What is the meaning behind that? Well, it was the last thing that his father wrote during his battle with Alzheimer's.
As Bennett explained to Golf Channel, with a clear mind, his father uttered the words to him one day in the kitchen. Bennett then asked his mother if she could get his father to write the phrase down. She did, and he signed it "Pops."
Bennett kept that piece of paper in the center console of his Chevy Silverado. He then decided to have it tattooed on his forearm.
That isn't Bennett's only tattoo. He has several on his chest, including "five birds for his family members [and] the Methodist cross for his faith," per Golf Channel.
His mother also has several tattoos, including one of an infinity sign with the phrase "until we meet again" written within it. That is in honor of Bennett's father as well.
Sam Bennett at the 2023 Masters
To say Bennett made an impression on his first Thursday at Augusta would be an understatement.
He shot a 68 and began his day with a birdie and an eagle on the Par 72 course while not bogeying once for his entire round.
The 2022 U.S. Amateur champion Sam Bennett finished his first round without a single bogey.
Bennett's 4-under score through nine holes was tied for the lowest first nine for an amateur in Masters history.
Bennett's second shot of the day featured a chip-in from just beyond the bunker to give him his eagle on the day.
The amateur goes into Friday tied for sixth on the leaderboard with his 4-under score. No amateur has even won the Masters.
A word from Sam Bennett ahead of his second round.
Bennett's strong shooting continued into the second day of the Masters. He once again carded a 4-under 68 and rivaled tournament leader Brooks Koepka (5-under) for the day's best round.
Bennett did log his first bogey of the tournament early in his round, but he didn't let that get to him. He was mistake-free the rest of the way, and his excellent follow-up put him into sole possession of second place when he came off the course. He is the first amateur to achieve that feat at the Masters since Billy Joe Patton in 1958.
Also, Bennett's cumulative score of 8-under through 36 holes is the second-best ever posted by an amateur at Augusta, just one behind Ken Venturi, who carded a 9-under through 36 in 1956.
This shot probably qualifies if you're looking for a microcosm of Bennett's week. He called it his "worst shot of the week," yet it still landed on the green and put him in a solid two-putt scenario.
"Worst shot of the week."
When you're in solo second place at 8-under, and you're hole high but 25 feet out, I guess technically, this is probably true for the amateur Sam Bennett
There is still a lot of golf left to be played at the Masters, but Bennett has survived the cut and is within striking distance of Koepka's lead.
Bennett began to drift back to earth in miserable conditions at the start of Round 3 on Saturday.
Playing with leaders Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm, Bennett bogeyed the first two holes, then steadied himself with a series of pars through the sixth before the horn sounded and the play ended for the day.
He faces a grueling Sunday with 12 holes to complete in the third round, then potentially the entire final round.