BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – When the Scots invented the game of golf 500 years ago, they didn’t intend for the ball to be struck the way Ben Witter does. Because what Witter does to a golf ball defies explanation, physics and conventional thinking.
On Friday evening at the Lebanon Country Club, Witter brought his world-renowned golf trick shot show to his favorite place on earth to perform it – home.
Before an intimate gathering on the first tee at LCC, Witter hit golf balls 300 yards in every way imaginable, except from a stationary tee on the ground in the middle of his stance. His 40-minute display of remarkable hand-eye coordination wowed the crowd, in conjunction with the conclusion of the country club’s junior golf program.
“I don’t think of myself as an entertainer,” said Witter, a native of Myerstown and a graduate of Elco. “I’m not, unless I have a golf club in my hand or if I’m in my element. I love doing it (performing the show). I look forward to this more than anything in my life. I get such a kick out of kids. They are blown away by stuff. Kids don’t get enough of it.
“What my show has done is give me a vehicle to combine a golf lesson and a life lesson,” Witter added. “I have a unique opportunity to get my message across.”
“He’s really nice and kind,” said ten-year-old Lebanon resident Brock Smith of Witter. “He helps you. I used to take my club back and it was turning. Now I tee it up higher and I can hit it further. And Ben helped me with that.”
“Yes, I liked the show,” said Dayton Dibiaso, 6 of Lebanon. “His best shot, at least to me, was when he hit a ball with a wobbly club. I thought it was going to be hard.”
After showing his audience how to hit hooks and fades, Witter became really tricky. He struck golf balls off tees elevated four feet off the ground. He hit balls 190 miles an hour through a wooden board. And then he performed his signature ‘hitting-a-golf-ball-out-of-mid-air-while-balancing-himself-on-an-exercise-ball’ shot.
“My favorite shot, by far, is standing on a ball and hitting a golf ball out of the air after juggling it,” said Witter, who won the 1980 Lebanon County Amateur as a teenager. “It’s my favorite and the hardest shot I do. Just standing on the ball is hard, and then having to hit out of mid air is really difficult. Every time you add an element to a shot it becomes exponentially more difficult.
“I’m working on a new shot,” Witter continued. “There’s a couple of things that make it difficult logistically. I’m doing it on a trampoline. I can do the shot, but bringing a trampoline out here is tough. It’s a good hour-and-a-half of set-up time.”
“It was awesome,” said Smith. “I really liked it when he super-glued balls to a tee and then hit them off of a watermelon. I had fun.”
“My favorite shot was when he hit a golf ball off a ball,” said Dibiaso. “He hit shots with back-spin and shots that skipped over water. They’re very hard. I can’t do any of them.”
Witter, a former Golf Entertainer of the Year, has performed his trick shot show in 17 different countries and 39 states. He has been doing it for more than 20 years and has put on about 500 shows.
“It was 2002 or 2003 and I was just goofing around,” said Witter, 49. “I would say I didn’t get what it was about. And I was in Washington, Utah when it all changed. What changed was not my trick shots, but telling a story. I built cancer into my story and I told my life story.
“I had a guy come up to me and he said, ‘Your skills are unbelievable, but what’s most amazing is your story,'” Witter continued. “But right now is when I’m getting the most recognition and accolades.”
A former touring professional and a one-time, long-drive world champion, Witter is the operator of Ben’s Power Golf and Fairview Indoor Golf, here in Lebanon. But most impressively he is a four-time cancer survivor.
“Actually, my first show was for doctors and nurses when I was in the hospital for cancer,” said Witter. “And then when I was a pro at Fox Chase (in Denver, PA), if they had an outing, I’d do some trick. Things just snowballed from there.
“Then in 1998 at an outing at Iron Valley, there was a sports marketing agent in the event,” continued Witter. “He handed me a card and said, ‘You need to give me a call.’ And I said, ‘For what?’ And he said, ‘I think I can get you some work.’ He got me a job in Dayton, Ohio and I couldn’t believe someone was paying me $500 to do it. At that event, I had five more people approach me. From there, it turned into a career.”
But the true origin of Witter’s trick shot show may have come from a hospital bed, when he was initially stricken with cancer.
“My mom brought me a wedge and a ball when I was in the hospital,” said Witter. “She said, ‘You need to figure out your life.’ It gave me a reason to get up every morning.”