LEBANON -- He has never won a U.S. Open.
He’s not sponsored by a major shoe company. He’s not even on the professional tour.
But Ben Witter may be the most incredible golfer on the planet.
Witter is arguably the world’s foremost trick shot artist – a man who makes the game even more difficult than it already is.How did he start performing?
Well, when cancer is embedded in your life, your family and your face, a man can afford to bend the rules a bit – and do things your own way. “When I have a golf club in my hand; and I’m ready to hit a golf ball, none of this matters,” said Witter while pointing to his mouth, nose and cheeks.
Golf has always mattered to Ben. After college, he wanted to go pro.
That’s when he first found out he had cancer of his salivary gland. It affects only one in 100,000 people, even rarer for someone in their early twenties. Witter had a better chance of hitting a hole in one.
During his recovery, a depressed Ben started bouncing a ball on his club for hours at a time. That bouncing turned into a few tricks and he now says “it became my reason to carry on.”
Twenty years later, through his Power Golf Show, he has met legends like the late Sam Snead; and has traveled the world by performing in more than a dozen different countries.
His show includes the wild and the wacky.
He hits balls from his knees and off his knees. He’ll pull out a nine-foot driver and then climb on an exercise ball before smashing a ball on a special, extra-long (or is it high?) tee. He even uses a flexible golf club he made from a fishing rod.
And the tricks keep coming.
But so does the cancer.
Ben is missing part of a lung and he’s had one-half of his jaw removed, as well as his nasal cavity.
Who knew a golfer could be so tough?
“What I see when I look in the mirror is a battle scar, which reminds me of the battle I’ve been through,” said Witter, who is also a teaching professional.
If you thought Ben’s battle has been agonizing, guess how he felt when he discovered his daughter had cancer, too?
Gabbie Witter now has Ewing’s Sarcoma – a bone cancer – in her ribs, and there’s nothing Ben can do about it. “When Gabbie got diagnosed and started her surgery and chemo, (I had) no control whatsoever,” her father said. “And you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“I’m usually only in pain when I’m in the hospital,” said Gabrielle, a high school junior. “And when I am at home, I’m just missing school…and my hair.”
She's asked if losing her hair has been difficult to accept. “Yeah,” she replies with a small laugh.
It’s also been tough on Mom, Ben’s wife.
“You feel a lot…you feel guilty,” said Ann Witter. “As if you did something wrong; as if you could have done something to prevent it. But you can’t (prevent it). And I know that.”
Gabbie’s prognosis is good, though. Her treatment is scheduled to end by December.
She certainly has the right role model; her father who has beaten the odds, over and over and continues to amaze, especially with a golf club.
And just when you think Ben’s been through enough; you find out this -- his cancer is back and the outlook is not good.
The tumor near his mouth swells; and he has five tumors more in his chest – and another on his brain.
Still, you’ll never hear him ask, ‘Why me?’
“I prefer ‘Try me,” he recently said. “People say, ‘Why me, Lord?’ ‘(I say) Try me, Lord.’ Figure out and give me another day to try something and find a way to make it good.”
Ben is currently trying a new, experimental treatment not approved by the FDA. Not surprisingly, it’s both expensive and not covered by insurance. Lebanon Country Club is hosting a special fundraiser golf tournament on Monday, October 10, to raise money for both Ben and Gabbie. The event is sold out.
They say golf is the cruelest of sports. Like life, sometimes it’s unfair.
But that hasn’t mattered to Ben.
Every day is a constant battle – to pull off the unthinkable and fight off the inevitable. Ben Witter clearly plays to win.
Some images used in this story were provided by Ben Witter.