Game Changers

Utah PGA Family: Strong Like Bennett

By Jesse Dodson
Published on

As the great Bobby Jones said, “Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots, and good breaks from bad shots — but you have to play the ball as it lies.”
When you meet 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 he was introduced in 2011 by his dad, he never looked back. 
Soon after being bitten by the golf bug he made the ever-wise decision to call Red Ledges PGA Director of Instruction Jon Paupore for lessons. Typically future PGA Professionals have played the game for years before considering turning it into a career but for Simons, he learned the game and started his PGA Journey around the same time.
“At that point, I was hooked,” recalls Simons. “In the first lesson, we chatted about my golf goals and I told him I was potentially interested in the PGA’s PGM Program. He offered me a job after our first lesson together. I’m sure my less-than-stellar golf swing led him to hire me.”
In addition to Paupore, working at Red Ledges led to creating influential relationships with Utah PGA Members JR Cummings, John Johnson and Derek Butts that sparked Simon’s desire to pursue his PGA Membership.
This pursuit led the Simons family to Atlanta, Georgia, where Michael had the opportunity to work for 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 early 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,” adds Simons.
Many complications came with Bennett arriving early, which led to nights in the NICU and daily visits from Michael and Anna to the hospital. Yet it also gave them a moment that inspired strength — one which would change their outlook on life going forward.
“When Bennett was about a week old he was very sick,” says Simons. “It was bad enough that the doctors didn’t think he would make it. One day in the hospital, however, Bennett gave us a little muscle flex. We needed it, and that was the same 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.” 
Adds Simons: “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.”
The Utah PGA Section, under the direction of President Kent McComb, has an extra focus on being a family, looking after one another and being there for each other. That mission was put to action over the 2022 holidays when Bennett required neurosurgery.
“Surprisingly enough,” says Simons, “neurosurgery was his first major surgery outside of general MRIs, numerous hearing tests and plenty of doctor visits.”
With big surgeries comes big medical expenses, but the Utah PGA family had the opportunity to support one of their own through the creation of a GoFundMe campaign.
“The PGA Member is the main focus of Section Officers, Board and staff,” says 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,” notes Simons. “Especially with his hearing loss, speech delays and other cognitive and physical functions. We cannot thank the Utah PGA enough for the generosity shown to us. The texts, phone calls, words of encouragement and money have eased this burden, especially during the holiday season. Even when we lived in Georgia, my Utah PGA 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” and making the most of it. They’re the perfect example of the good that can come from the game of golf, and 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 says. “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 of Membership & Inclusion. This story originally appeared in Utah PGA Monthly digital magazine.