The Players tees up big surprise for young cancer patients

Bender Middlekauff, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year, got to meet Justin Thomas

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 25-year-old cancer patient got the surprise of a lifetime on Wednesday afternoon.

Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center gave Bender Middlekauff tickets for him, his family and friends to attend The Players Championship. But little did he know that when they got there, he’d wind up meeting his favorite professional golfer, Justin Thomas.

It’s the sort of moment every golf fan dreams about.

“Unbelievable,” Middlekauf recalled. “He called me out by my name at the 16th tee: ‘You’re Bender, right?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re Justin Thomas. Can I call you JT?’”

Middlekauff acknowledged the experience was a little overwhelming but said he and Thomas got to chat for a few moments. He said they mostly talked about the University of Alabama, the school they both attended.

It was a completely different feeling than the diagnosis he received this time last year.

“I had a seizure on March 8 (2020),” Middlekauff said. “It was just a Sunday night we were watching Suits together, a TV show, and I drifted off to sleep and fell asleep on the couch and made this really strange noise. And I couldn’t stop it.”

Middlekauff’s roommate immediately called 911 and rushed him to the Baptist Beaches. He was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor located near the left frontal lobe, which is linked to speech and controls the right side of the body.

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