As the great Bobby Jones said, “Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots – but you have to play the ball as it lies.”
When meeting Michael Simons, PGA, his wife Anna and their son Bennett – you’d have no idea how many “bad breaks from good shots” they’ve gone through based on their positive outlook on life and the way they treat others.
Simons, born in San Jose, California, but raised in Utah, didn’t learn how to play golf until later in life. But when his father introduced him to the game in 2011, he never looked back.
Soon after being bitten by the golf bug he made the ever-wise decision to call Red Ledges Director of Instruction Jon Paupore, PGA, for lessons.
Typically future PGA Professionals have played the game for years before considering turning it into a career, for Simons, he learned the game and started his PGA Journey about the same time.
“At that point, I was hooked,” said Simons. “In the first lesson, we chatted about my golf goals and I told him I was potentially interested in the PGM Program. He offered me a job after our first lesson together.”
In addition to Paupore, working at Red Ledges led to creating influential relationships with Utah Section Members JR Cummings, John Johnson and Derek Butts which sparked Simon’s desire to pursue his PGA Membership.
This pursuit led the Simons family to Atlanta, Georgia, where Simons landed a spot at the historic East Lake Golf Club. More importantly in the course of their life, it’s where they began having to “play the ball as it lies” with the premature birth and passing of their first child Calvin, in 2017.
Then, four weeks before Tiger Woods completed one of his many historic come-backs with a win at East Lake in the 2018 Tour Championship, Bennett Simons was born in Atlanta.
“Bennett was born at only 24 weeks gestation, so he has overcome a lot in his short life,” said Simons.
Many complications came with Bennett arriving early, which led to many nights in the NICU, causing daily visits from Michael and Anna to the hospital, but it also led them to a moment that inspired strength that would change their outlook on life going forward.
“When Bennett was about a week old he was very sick,” said Simons. “It was bad enough that the doctors didn’t think he would make it.
“One day when we went to the hospital, Bennett gave us a little muscle flex. We needed this at that time. That was the day we started using the phrase “Strong Like Bennett.” This kid has so much fight in him and has already overcome so much in life.
“He is an example of strength. Every single day is a new journey that presents different challenges but we will always go about it with optimism and ultimately just try to be Strong Like Bennett.”
Four years later, the Simons are back in Utah, where Michael works at Park Meadows as the communication manager and Bennett goes to pre-school and has grown to be the most “outgoing, people-loving, caring and happy little guy I know.”
The Section, under the direction of Past President Kent McComb, has had an extra focus on being a family, looking after one another. That mission was put to action over the 2022 holidays when Bennett required neurosurgery.
“Surprisingly enough,” said Simons, “neurosurgery was his first major surgery outside of general MRIs, numerous hearing tests and plenty of doctor visits.”
Facing enormous medical expenses from major surgical procedures, the Utah Section Family embraced the opportunity to support one of their own through the creation of a GoFundMe campaign for the Simons.
“The PGA member is the main focus of the Utah Section Officers, Board and Staff” said Utah PGA Assistant Executive Director Annie Fisher. “Sometimes our support of the member comes by way of career support, facility support or education support. And sometimes it comes through the avenue of a bond that is so tight with the entire Utah PGA family looking out for each other in times of need. We raised over $10,000 to help with medical expenses in just a few short days.”
The surgery was a success and Bennett is on the road to recovery, already exceeding his doctor’s expectations with his brain miraculously starting to fill in the space in his skull, which typically doesn’t happen this quickly.
“We’re optimistic that he will continue to make day-to-day improvements and this surgery will allow him to do things he hasn’t been able to do yet,” said Simons. “Especially with his hearing loss, speech delays and other cognitive and physical functions.
“We cannot thank the Utah Section enough for the kindness and generosity shown to us. The texts, phone calls, words of encouragement and money have eased this burden, especially during the holiday season.
“The Utah Section has been an extended family for me. Even when we lived in Georgia, some of my Utah Section friends were the most supportive when my wife and I lost our first child. This Section will always hold a special place in our hearts.”
The Simons family is a shining example of “playing the ball as it lies.” They are the perfect example of the good that can come from the game of golf, when PGA Members and family come together to support something bigger than the game.
“A lot of our life circumstances and experiences are out of our control,” Simons said. “So if we can accept that there will be bad “shots” in our lives, the good “shots” will feel that much sweeter.”
Jesse Dodson is the PGA of America public relations lead, membership & inclusion and a frequent contributor to Utah PGA Monthly. Originally appeared in the January issue of Utah PGA Monthly digital magazine, Click Here