Golfer Biser Really Beat The Odds

September 17, 2009|By Kevin Cowherd

Next time you face a challenge in life, think about a young man named Vince Biser.

Biser, 21, just won the North American One-Armed Golfer Association championship at the tough PGA National course in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Oh, Biser has two arms. But he was born with cerebral palsy and has limited vision and virtually no use of the right side of his upper body. Which means he swings a golf club with only one arm - his left.

I watched him hit balls the other day on the practice range at the Country Club of Maryland, where he's a member. Let me say this: You'd sign a blood pact with the Devil to hit a golf ball the way this kid does.

He's scary long off the tee - he crushed a 290-yard drive at PGA National, where the Honda Classic is played. And he hits soaring, feathery-soft iron shots that are a sight to behold.

A former member of the Towson High golf team, his USGA index is 6. His low round at the club is a 74.

Yeah, this is not the guy you walk up to on the first tee and say: "How 'bout a few bucks on the match, just to make it interesting?"

But cerebral palsy is just one of the things Vince Biser had to overcome growing up in the Pinehurst neighborhood in Baltimore County.

Around the age of 2, he began suffering from seizures. The seizures grew more severe the older he got.

"After I had a seizure, I couldn't do anything for the rest of the day," Vince said. "I had to sleep four hours to recover."

"Sometimes he'd sleep all day," said his dad, Andy Biser.

Think that wouldn't disrupt your life a tad when you're a kid? Cerebral palsy and seizures? And the seizures would hit him anywhere: home, school, mall, golf course.

By the time he was a teenager, he was gobbling fistfuls of anti-seizure medications that made him loopy or zoned-out altogether.

"One day, when he was 16, my wife, Nona, said, 'This isn't working. We gotta do something else,' " Andy Biser recalled.

Fortunately, Vince turned out to be a good candidate for a hemispherectomy, an intensive operation in which part of the brain is removed to relieve frequent and severe seizures.

The operation, performed at Johns Hopkins Hospital, took eight hours. A big chunk of Vince's skull was removed to get at the brain.

I saw photos of the procedure. If you were a parent of a kid undergoing a hemispherectomy, you'd be praying and white-knuckling the chairs in the waiting room the whole time.

What followed was a long, painful recovery that took more than a year. Vince had pounding headaches for weeks.

But the seizures were gone.

"You talk about a miracle," Andy Biser says. "THAT was a miracle."

In a sense, the operation gave Vince back his life.

Now he was playing golf six days a week, overcoming the limitations of his right arm and balky right leg with a sweet lefty, one-armed swing.

Which is how he ended up on the lush, manicured grounds of the PGA National resort two weeks ago, playing for the one-armed championship with his dad as his caddie.

Obviously, the 47 players gathered for the four-day event were not your typical golfers.

One had his arm bitten off by an alligator. Another, a former utility worker, lost an arm when he fell from a pole onto a live electrical wire. There were golfers missing arms from motorcycle accidents and industrial mishaps.

And Vince Biser, the youngest guy in the field, playing in just his fourth one-armed tournament, beat them all.

In the final round of match play, on the treacherous par-3, 179-yard 15th hole, his opponent stepped up to the tee and plunked two balls into the water, leaving Vince 5-up with three holes to play.

"Vince," the guy said casually, "let's go to dinner."

Realizing he had just won, Vince was stunned.

"I was thinking, 'Yay, I won the tournament,' " he recalled. "But I also kind of felt bad for the guy. It was his second year in a row in the finals."

The win had an added benefit for Vince: He locked up a spot in the 2010 Flightmaster Cup in Wales, where he'll compete against European one-armed golfers.

The flight home to BWI-Marshall Airport was a happy blur for the Bisers.

When the family's SUV pulled into the driveway, another surprise awaited: The entire neighborhood had turned out for a big "Welcome Home" party. A camera crew from a local TV station was on hand.

Vince Biser never saw himself as a role model for people with disabilities. But that might be changing.

"I just got an e-mail from a guy in Timonium," he said, smiling. "He said he has the same kind of disability I have. And he wants to play golf with me."

Now Vince's goal is to become a teaching pro at a local golf course, where he might be able to help others with physical limitations play the game.

You don't want to bet against him.

Not after all he has overcome.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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