Sam Bennett 2023 Masters Run Has Set Up Off-Course Earnings

Sam Bennett was one of the biggest stories of the 2023 Masters; the then-Texas A&M student entered the weekend tied for sixth after posting the second lowest two-round score ever for an amateur. He finished 16th overall and became the first amateur in the top 20 at the Masters since 2005.

“Finding myself in contention [last year] was really cool,” Bennett said in a phone interview. “But I knew I could do it.”

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As an amateur, Bennett had to forgo his $261,000 Masters payday, and he won’t be in Augusta this week; he finished just outside the top 12 needed for an invite back, and he doesn’t meet any of the 19 other qualifications for an invitation. Plus, the 2022 U.S. Amateur champion is not very interested in dwelling on his historic 2023 Masters run. He’s looking ahead to secure a permanent spot on the PGA Tour.

“The goal is to grind it out and get in the top 30,” Bennett, who turned pro in May, said. The top 30 golfers on the Korn Ferry Tour gain their PGA Tour cards for the following year.

Bennett is a self-taught golfer who grew up on a nine-hole course with a “homemade” swing and says he never took a lesson. He arrived at Texas A&M in 2018, and like all college athletes, he had to navigate new options after the Supreme Court opened the doors to name, image and likeness deals in 2021. His first partner was Suncast, which makes outdoor resin-based products. The company’s name was on his hat for the 2022 Dubai Desert Classic.

Bennett’s agent, Matt Bollero, said for the early NIL deals he targeted companies that had not done a lot in the NIL space. “We wanted to give the companies a peek behind the curtain and see if they enjoyed it,” Bollero said.

Bennett’s profile rose as he made the cut at the 2022 U.S. Open and then had his Masters run, which got an added boost as the media learned Bennett’s backstory. He has a tattoo on his left forearm that reads “don’t wait to do something” in the handwriting of his father. They were the last words he wrote before dying in 2021 from early-onset Alzheimer’s.

When Bennett turned pro after the 2023 NCAA Men’s Golf National Championship, most of his NIL sponsors, including Suncast, came along under new deals—college NIL agreements can’t carry over into the pro ranks. Suncast got a media bounce during the 2023 Masters as ESPN’s Pat McAfee Show talked about the company at length and how a bigger brand, like Nike, would scoop up Bennett’s hat, which is the most valuable real estate on a golfer.

Ping, Johnnie-O, K-Solv and SAM Nutrition were all brands that had NIL deals with Bennett that joined him as a pro. He also added Generator Supercenter and Veritex Bank as sponsors. Bennett’s annual off-course income is in the high six figures right now.

Last month, top-ranked U.S. college tennis player Reese Brantmeier filed a lawsuit over prize money restrictions for college athletes in tennis, golf, gymnastics and other sports. The suit came two months after golfer Nick Dunlap had to forgo $1.5 million when he won the American Express tournament. Bennett couldn’t collect his 2023 Masters check but doesn’t think the rules should change, citing the opportunities with NIL and the scholarship collegians can receive. But he’s not totally immune to what could have been. “Would have been nice to take $261,000 from the Masters last year,” he says.

Bennett played 10 PGA Tour events in 2023 after turning pro, thanks in part to sponsor exemptions, and earned $303,155 in prize money. He secured full membership on the developmental Korn Ferry Tour with his top five finish on the PGA Tour University rankings. He’s earned $68,055 so far this year in six Korn Ferry events and currently sits in 28th in the standings, just inside the top 30 cutoff to jump to the PGA Tour next year.

The Korn Ferry Tour is far from the top end of the main tour—players are not flying private with a entourage of their caddie, swing coach, physio, sports psychologist and agent. Bennett highlights his college coach, Brian Kortan, as the person he turns to when looking for on-course tips, and he says the Korn Ferry Tour has a “college feel”—one of his former teammates and many others he competed against as a junior player and in college are playing with him.

As for the 2024 Masters, Bennett’s pick is chalk, with Scottie Scheffler a peak-Tiger Woods-like favorite at +450. He says, “I don’t think anyone is beating Scottie.”

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