Seventeen Million to One

September 10, 2006

What do you saywhen your grown son tells you, "Nothing good has ever happened to me"?If you're Marty Bezbatchenko, your heart cleaves like a coconut and you repeatevery motivational slogan you ever heard as a star quarterback. "If you getknocked out, you get back up," recites Marty, who led Akron to the NCAADivision II championship game in 1976. "I talk about PMA, for PositiveMental Attitude, that winners adjust. I believe all that."

His first twosons, Mike and Nick, were outstanding high school athletes in Tallmadge, Ohio.But his youngest, David, was found at age five to have neurofibromatosis, anoften disfiguring disease that causes tumors to grow just beneath the skin.

David, fully grownat 5'5", 135 pounds, dedicated himself to holding for the placekicker atTallmadge High. "He was very good at it," says Marty, "and heenjoyed being part of a team." Just over a year ago, as a sophomore atBowling Green, David was told he had a brain tumor. Surgeons could remove only55% of it, and the remainder seemed impervious to chemotherapy. And yet Davidkept his PMA. He could hardly complain to his mother, Barb, who had breastcancer. But he did tell his dad, in a moment of despair, "Nothing good hasever happened to me."

It wasn't true.David cherished the trips he and Marty took to see Ohio State play Michigan infootball. They'd go to Detroit to see the Pistons on Friday, the Buckeyes atthe Big House on Saturday and the Red Wings on Saturday night. Somewhere alongthe line, Marty and David became each other's best friend. They so enjoyedspending Saturdays and Sundays together in the fall watching the Buckeyes andthe Cleveland Browns on TV that they decided to also spend summer Tuesdays andSundays playing golf together, when David's chemo regimen would allow.

Last spring Davidset three goals for himself: to make a birdie this summer, to break 100 nextsummer and to get a hole in one "sometime in my lifetime." His dad toldhim, "Keep playing, and you never know." Never mind that David is theequivalent of a 40 handicap. "Golf is a getaway," he says. "Ittakes my mind off everything else. On the golf course you have enough otherthings to think about."

Like the 110-yardpar-3 5th hole at the Congress Lake Club in Hartville, Ohio. David got hisfirst birdie there, in June, and topped that two Sundays ago. Playing withMarty and two other men, he punched an eight-iron low into the wind over thebunkers and onto the green. The foursome on the next tee box held their fingersjust inches apart to indicate that David's Maxfli 2 was this close to thepin.

David bent to pickup his tee. When he looked up, that foursome was screaming, "It went in! Itwent in!" Bedlam broke out on the 5th and 6th tee boxes. "Everyone washugging and high-fiving each other," says David. His father, goose-bumpedand teary-eyed, could barely plant his own tee to hit next. Marty was so pumpedhe flew his ball 20 feet past the pin. Then it sucked back toward the cup anddived in. It was Marty's second hole in one. His first was 16 years ago, onDavid's seventh birthday.

In an instant theentire course was convulsed in celebration, and the 5th tee box resembled aballfield following the final out of the World Series. "Unbelievable,"says Marty. "That's all anyone could say." But then David, whose wholelife is about surmounting long odds, said, "It's not unbelievable, becauseit just happened."

"So we alldecided to call it amazing," says Marty, who apologized to David forfollowing his hole in one with a hole in one of his own. "Dad," Davidreplied, "this makes it better. This is perfect."

Father and sonapproached the flag together and found the two balls, practically conjoined.Three hours later David was carding his first two-digit score, a 98. When heand Marty floated into the locker room, they were greeted with a standingovation.

In a studycommissioned by Golf Digest, Francis Scheid, retired chairman of the BostonUniversity math department, calculated the odds of two members of the samefoursome acing the same hole at 17 million to 1. Now imagine that the twogolfers are father and son. What are the odds of that? All David knows is that"it was probably the best day of my life."

"It was alittle eerie, too," says Marty, his voice catching. "David said to me,'Dad, I've accomplished everything that I wanted to do.'"

But in fact he hasmany milestones remaining. This weekend, for instance, is David's 21stbirthday. He's celebrating it with his dad in Las Vegas, where they knowsomething that the poker dealers don't: Nothing beats a pair of aces.

• If you have acomment for Steve Rushin, send it to rushin@siletters.com.

"Unbelievable," says the father. "That'sall anyone could say." But then his son, whose life is about surmountinglong odds, said, "It's not unbelievable, because it just happened."

PHOTOSIMON BRUTY

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)