“For the longest time, I lived my life scared just seeing what he went through,” remembers golfer Sam Bennett. At age 23, he’s a rising star in the world of amateur golf. But he was holding back; he was scared of what might happen next.
That’s because in June 2021, Sam’s father lost his battle with early onset Alzheimer’s. The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s is characterized by gradual memory loss leading to the inability to accomplish daily tasks. The disease affects the parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language.
In many ways, the devastating disease is still a mystery to scientists. The Alzheimer’s Association describes it as a disease that prevents parts of cells from doing their tasks properly. “Backups and breakdowns in one system cause problems in other areas,” they note. “As damage spreads, cells lose their ability to do their jobs and, eventually die, causing irreversible changes in the brain.”
Connections between the brain fail, as do connections between the brain and body. The brain shrinks significantly, causing someone with Alzheimer’s Disease to lose many functions and abilities. Near the end of his long battle, Sam’s father forgot how to write.
Mark Bennett was diagnosed at the early age of 43. The disease progressed slowly over a decade until his death at age 53. One day near the end, Sam and his mom were outside talking when they heard Mark wake up from a nap. They went into the house where, as Sam’s mother Stacey Bennett recalls, Mark abruptly said: “Don’t wait to do something.”
Sam and Stacey didn’t know what to say. “It was just out of the blue,” Stacey said, a surprising moment of clarity. “It was a moment for all of us.” Sam wanted to remember it forever, so he asked his dad to write it down.
But because Mark Bennett had forgotten how to write, Stacey sat down with her husband and showed him how. Letter by letter, with a shaky hand, Mark penned the message on paper. It took him about 20 minutes. When he was done, Sam took the paper to a local tattoo parlour and had the script tattooed to his arm.
Years later, after his father’s death, those last words written by Mark Bennett are more important to the young athlete than ever. He’s the third-ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, playing in Masters Tournaments, with a promising career ahead of him.
And yet, as he recalls his childhood in Madisonville, Texas, he remembers he “never had a lesson.” For him the game was “strictly how fast you can get the ball in the hole.” His father’s words remind him that, despite those humble beginnings, he’s worthy. He can do it.
“That just means don’t be scared of anything you do,” Sam said, referring to the tattooed words on his arm. “My dad didn’t care what I shot, just respected the game.”
Sam’s father never got to see his rise to the height of his current golf game, but Sam’s adamant that his father is watching over him as he brings home trophy after trophy. “He’d think all this stuff is pretty dang cool,” he says with a smile.
Sam’s coach at Texas A&M, Brian Kortan, agrees that Mark Bennett’s last written words have had a tremendous impact on Sam. “The maturation process really came down to him understanding that he could do this without his dad,” Kortan said, “that he still had more to give, more that he wanted to do for himself. The message on his forearm talks about get to doing it and to chase something that’s right in front of you. It relates perfectly to being intentional and not shying away from what you’re really trying to do.”
When his father died, Sam and his entire family were shaken to the core. It was difficult to move on. But having that last message, spoken in a moment of breathtaking clarity and painstakingly written down with a final effort, has been life-saving grace for the young man.
Sam wanted to preserve it for the rest of his life, and having it tattooed on his arm means that he repeats the words in his head every day.
It means that when he’s out on the green getting ready to swing that club, his father’s words wrap around him like a warm hug. From one of his father’s last moments of clarity, Sam gathers the strength to focus and to make his dad proud.