Column: Bennett looks at his arm to lean on father’s advice

Before he takes back the club, Sam Bennett takes one last look at the tattoo on the inside of his arm.

“Don’t wait to do something.”

Those words, exactly how they appear on a handwritten note from his father last June, remind him of the last advice his father gave him before Alzheimer’s left them unable to communicate.

Bennett had a chance to do something earlier this month, and he didn’t wait.

A junior at Texas A&M, he won the Cabo Collegiate with a 67 in the final round to earn a spot in the Valero Texas Open this week against a field that includes Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau and Rickie Fowler.

His father, no doubt, would be thrilled — if only he knew.

“He was one of the reasons why I started playing golf and wanted to play good golf,” Bennett said Tuesday. “Because I wanted to impress him.”

Good golf had roots on a hardscrabble 9-hole course in tiny Madisonville, Texas, about 100 miles north of Houston, where his father showed him how to play. Bennett loved it enough that his father, Mark, bought a membership at A&M’s home course, Traditions Club, where they went twice a month until Bennett was old enough to drive.

Those words were the last he heard his father say to him.

His father was diagnosed about seven years ago, and his condition has deteriorated now to the point he can’t put together enough words to make a sentence and requires around-the-clock care at home. Bennett sees him every weekend. He said his father smiles when he walks in the door and they hug. But that’s about it.

“Outside with my mom one morning and just doing yard work, it was probably a year ago when my dad could still speak a little bit and make conversation, and I was struggling mentally with some things,” Bennett said. “He told me, ‘Don’t wait to do something.’ That was the last advice he’s given me before everything went south.

“It took him 15 minutes to write it out. He actually wrote it out in his own handwriting,” Bennett said. “It was probably the hardest thing he ever had to do. Now with that on my arm — the tattoo — I’ve got a new pre-shot routine. I just look at it and I say, ‘Don’t wait to do something.'”

Bennett did a little bit of everything in his town of 4,600, but golf was always there. He said his grandfather had a hunch when he was a toddler that he had a future in golf, and Bennett started getting college inquiries in the eighth grade.

Growing up in a small town adds another layer of difficulty. Bennett considers putting to be one of his weaknesses because the greens on the 9-hole course formerly called Oak Bridge were not smooth like he eventually saw at Traditions, and certainly not at the speed he will face at the TPC San Antonio.

He plays one week after Robert MacIntyre of Scotland motored past Dustin Johnson and into the weekend at the Dell Technologies Match Play. MacIntyre, now No. 44 in the world, comes from the small coastal town of Oban about three hours north of Glasgow.

“There’s few folk from a smaller town than I’m from,” MacIntyre said a few weeks ago. “You’ve just got to dream. If you dream it and believe it, you can achieve it.”

It was always Bennett’s dream to play on the PGA Tour, even if only for a week.

It hasn’t been easy, and not just because of where he grew up. Life at home has been more challenging than he cares to let on, and Bennett says it contributed to other issues that led to bouts of depression. He said he has been seeing a psychologist at Texas A&M, which has helped, but the last eight months in particular have taken a toll.

Three weeks before he won the Cabo Collegiate, he posted on Twitter, “If y’all knew what goes on in my mind daily and yet still accomplishing the things I am y’all would be astonished.”

Three weeks before that, another tweet was just as telling: “Man I just wish I could have a conversation with my dad.”

The last few days have felt surreal, first in a Monday pro-am at the Texas Open, and even the simple routine of going to the range and hitting balls. All around him are players he only knows from television, and equipment trucks from major manufacturers supplying whatever he needs.

“I catch myself thinking, ‘Dude, like, you’re actually here. This is what you dreamed of doing your whole life,’” Bennett said. “I’m still soaking it in, honestly. It doesn’t feel real to me.”

His older brother, Marcus, will be his caddie. His mom will be in the gallery. His dad will be home, unaware that his son followed his advice and didn’t wait to do something.

“I was telling my mom I really wish there was a way Dad could make it out there, but there’s just no way,” Bennett said. “It would be kind of cool just to glance over and see my dad out there.”

Instead, he’ll have to settle for looking at his arm. On every shot.

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