Mark Bemowski 2011 state am Mark Bemo.jpg

Mark Bemowski watches his tee shot during the 2011 Wisconsin State Amateur. The six-time State Amateur champion died Friday.

We’d known each other since the mid-1980s, when I was working at the Racine Journal Times and Mark Bemowski was playing in a regular money game at H.F. Johnson Park (and winning a whole lot more than he lost).

I covered three of his six victories in the Wisconsin State Amateur and innumerable other tournaments in which he competed and often won. In 2007, Mark asked me if I wanted to caddie for him in a practice round for the U.S. Senior Open at Whistling Straits and I jumped at the opportunity.

It was one of the best days I spent on a golf course, until he handed me his club after hitting his second shot on No. 15, turned and walked toward the green … and missed me tumbling backward into one of Pete Dye’s cavernous bunkers, clubs flying everywhere. After the round, I asked him to grade me as a caddie and he gave me a C-plus. Disappointed, I asked why the low grade.

“Well,” he said, eyeing the bent legs on his carry bag, “you broke my golf bag.”

Over the years, we became more than reporter and subject. We became friends, attending high school basketball games together and meeting for the occasional lunch. I can’t say we were best buddies, but I knew him well enough to get a lump in my throat when he told me, over a somber breakfast at one of his favorite restaurants in Mukwonago, about his cancer diagnosis.

Pancreatic. The worst kind. A death sentence.

“I’m going to fight this,” he said, catching me off-guard with an uncharacteristic hug in the parking lot.

Fight, he most certainly did. He lost 50 pounds. He lost his sense of taste. He lost his balance when he tried to hit sidehill shots. The greatest amateur in Wisconsin history, once a sturdy 220-pounder who even in his late 60s could hit a golf ball 280 yards, became a skeletal shell of himself.

Nine months after his diagnosis, he entered the 2017 State Senior Best-ball with partner Paul Zarek, partly because they were the defending champions but mostly to be around the golfers he’d spent a lifetime playing with and against. Warming up on the range, he hit a few skanks, turned to me and said, “I never thought I’d know what it’s like to be a 13-handicapper.”

“You should have just asked me,” I said. “I’ve been one my whole life.”

Mark was determined to gain back what he lost and believed he’d do it. He had chemo every other Monday, which wiped him out for the rest of the week. But the next week, he’d be on the practice green at Morningstar Golfers Club or, like a kid in a candy store, testing new TaylorMade clubs on the range. Then he’d have another round of chemo, followed by another “good” week.

He did this for months.

“I love the challenge of golf,” he said, admitting that the game gave him incentive to fight the good fight against an unrelenting opponent. “I love tinkering with equipment, always trying to get better.”

Amateur legend Archie Dadian said most golfers lose their desire to practice over time, but the opposite was true with Mark.

“That’s what set him apart from the everybody else,” Dadian told me. “He was always willing to do what others weren’t. That’s what the great ones do.”

Mark never had anything handed to him. He earned everything he ever got on the golf course by outworking and out-thinking people. He was no rich country club kid. He fought in Vietnam. His wife, Sandy, suffered a terrible stroke a few years ago and is still recovering. He dealt with the hard knocks quietly and privately.

He was blunt and opinionated. He could be caustic and difficult to play with, mostly because he was trying to beat your brains in. Two-time State Amateur champion Bob Gregorski called him a “ferocious competitor” and that may have been an understatement. He had a Tour-quality short game and a quick wit and used both with equal aplomb.

He never stroked a putt he didn’t think he would — or should — make. One year, when he was in contention in the State Amateur, I wrote that he was griping about all the putts he was missing and glossing over the fact that he was making 15-footers left and right. The next day, he approached me in the middle of his round and asked why I’d written that.

“Come on, Mark, you know it’s true,” I said.

He grumbled something and walked away, but I detected the hint of a smile.

In July, Mark asked me to be his partner in the two-day member-guest at Morningstar. I was flattered and frightened. He’d seen me hit a few shots over the years but we’d never played a round together. Nervous on the first tee, I snap-hooked my drive into a hazard and, well, let’s just say it got worse from there.

Sometime late in the second round, I missed a 3-footer for bogey on a par-5, the ball never touching the cup. Embarrassed and exasperated, I mumbled, “What was that?”

“I believe,” Mark said dryly, “that was a 7.”

What was amazing to me was that even though he’d lost 50 yards off his driver, probably didn’t hit half the greens in regulation and never made a birdie, he shot 74-78, thanks to his magical short game and his almost unbelievable ability to grind over every single shot.

“Mark never, ever gave up,” Dadian said.

As far as I know, those were his final two “competitive” rounds, though I was of little help to him and we finished near the bottom of the pack, a place with which he was utterly unfamiliar. He offered to give me a chipping lesson, but I got busy with life and never took him up on it. Now it’s too late.

Mark fought until the end, which came Friday afternoon. Cancer took him, but it didn’t beat him. He lived 22 months with the worst disease imaginable.

And he went to the next world having gotten everything out of this one.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Mark Bemowski: Wisconsin's greatest amateur golfer

Here is a list of Mark Bemowski's major championships and runner-up finishes as a golfer many believe will go down as Wisconsin's greatest amateur.

U.S. Senior Amateur
Champion Runner-up Site
2004 Greg Reynolds Bel-Air CC-Los Angeles
Runner-up Champion Site
2002 Greg Reynolds Timuquana CC-Jacksonville, Fla.
2005 Mike Rice The Farm GC-Rocky Face, Ga.
Wisconsin State Open
Champion Runner-up Site
1974 Gene Frank Fox Hills Resort-Mishicot
Runner-up Champion Site
1973 Rolf Deming Janesville CC
2004 David Roesch Westmoor CC
Wisconsin State Amateur
Champion Runner-up Site
1976 John Pallin Stevens Point CC
1981 Alex Antonio, Joe Springer & Randy Warobick Blue Mound G&CC
1984 Al Peters Racine CC
1997 Mark Wilson North Shore CC-Mequon
1999 Alex Antonio Brynwood CC
2005 Ben Peters & Pat Boyle Brown County GC
Runner-up Champion Site
1974 Archie Dadian Branch River CC
WSGA State Match Play Championship
Runner-up Champion Site
1976 Archie Dadian Oconomowoc GC
WSGA State Bestball Championship
Champion Runner-up Site
1985 Jeff Radder & Curt Joa South Hills G&CC-Fond du Lac
Partner: Jim Covelli
*1986 Pat Gorman & Gary Kordus Lake Arrowhead GC-Nekoosa
Partner: Jim Covelli
*1989 Archie Dadian & Al Peters Abbey Springs GC-Fontana
Partner: Jim Covelli
1998 Joe Loomis & Ryan Quinn Butte des Morts CC-Appleton
Partner: Gary Menzel
Runner-up Champion Site
*1984 Dave Wernicke & Scott Overby Hartford GC
Partner: Jim Covelli
* = Presidents Flight
Wisconsin State Senior Open
Champion Runner-up Site
2010 Jim Doing Hidden Glen GC-Cedarburg
2011 Eddie Terasa South Hills G&CC-Fond du Lac
2012 Eddie Terasa The Bull at Pinehurst Farms-Sheboygan Falls
2013 Jim Ignatowski Oconomowoc GC
Runner-up Champion Site
2004 Gary Menzel The Bog-Saukville
2005 Rich Tock SentryWorld-Stevens Point
2006 Gary Menzel Eau Claire G&CC
2008 Paul Schwarz The Racine CC
Ray Fischer State Amateur
Champion Runner-up Site
1977 Cherokee CC-Madison
1987 Steve Stricker Janesville Riverside GC
1999 Bob Gregorski, Mike Johnston Janesville Riverside
2002 Duaine Olson Janesville Riverside
WSGA Senior Amateur
Champion Runner-up Site
2005 John Hogden Tripoli CC
2010 Dave Preboske
& Curt Joa
Reedsburg CC
2011 Dean Babbitt
& Mike Stolz
Brynwood CC
2012 Steve Johnson Legend at Bristlecone-Hartland
2016 Paul Zarek Pine Hills CC-Sheboygan
WSGA Senior Match Play
Champion Runner-up Site
2004 Tom Major The Bull at Pinhurst Farms-Sheboygan Falls
2010 Jim Ignatowski Morningstar GC-Waukesha
2011 Richard Pfeil Eau Claire G&CC
2012 Paul Zarek Reedsburg CC
Runner-up Champion Site
2007 Stu Grendahl Kenosha CC
WSGA Senior Bestball
Champion Partner Site
2006 Randy Warobick Merrill Hills CC-Waukesha
2012 Paul Zarek North Hills CC-Menomonee Falls
2013 Paul Zarek Lake Arrowhead GC-Nekoosa
2014 Paul Zarek South Hills G&CC-Fond du Lac
2016 Paul Zarek The Club at Strawberry Creek-Kenosha
WSGA 2-Man Team
Champion Partner Site
2002 Bob Gregorski Whispering Springs GC-Fond du Lac
WSGA Yule Cup (Wis. State Amateur)
Champion Club/Teammates Site
1984 Johnson Park GC/Jim Covelli, Jim Webers Racine CC
1987 Johnson Park GC/Jim Covelli, Paul Loth Maple Bluff CC-Madison
1995 Johnson Park GC/Andy Podolak, Bruce Hansen Milwaukee CC
1999 Johnson Park GC/Gary Menzel, Pat Boyle Brynwood CC-Milwaukee
2001 Johnson Park GC/Gary Menzel, Jim Webers Eau Claire G&CC
2002 Johnson Park GC/Jim Covelli, Gary Menzel Nakoma GC-Madison
2003 Johnson Park GC/Todd Schaap, Gary Menzel Blue Mound G&CC
2004 Johnson Park GC/Todd Schaap, Ben Peters The Bog GC-Saukville
2005 Johnson Park GC/Ben Peters, Todd Schaap Brown County GC-Green Bay
WSGA Sam Ruskin Cup (WSGA Senior Amateur
Champion Club/Teammates Site
2001 Johnson Park GC/Gary Menzel, Bruce Hansen North Shore CC-Mequon
2003 Johnson Park GC/Paul Loth, Bruce Hansen Chenequa CC-Hartland
2005 Johnson Park GC/Archie Dadian, Bruce Hansen Tripoli CC-Milwaukee
2012 Morningstar GC/Brent Wong, Jim Thiel Legend at Bergamont-Oregon
2014 Morningstar GC/Ron Hyde, Jim Thiel Greenwood Hills CC-Wausau
2016 Morningstar GC/Eddie Millikin, Joe Blommel Pine Hills CC-Sheboygan
WSGA Player of the Year WSGA Senior Player of the Year
1984 2002
1999 2004
2002 2005
2004 2009
WSGA Hall of Fame 2011
1991 2012

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