02/14/2002 - Updated 12:35 AM ET
By Jerry Potter, USA TODAY
For years, Brett Massingham has idolized the late Ben Hogan and dreamed of playing in a PGA Tour event.
When Massingham, a 37-year-old teaching pro from California, tees off today in his first PGA Tour event at the Nissan Open in Pacific Palisades, Calif., he'll be living that dream. And not just because he'll be playing in an event once dominated by the legendary Hogan.
Massingham has multiple sclerosis, a condition that eventually will make him unable to play golf or maybe even do his job as pro at Marbella Country Club in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
"Golf is not my total being because I have a beautiful wife and a son," says Massingham, who qualified for the Nissan Open two weeks ago. "I've said my life would be complete if I got to play one (PGA) Tour event."
Inspired by Hogan
Massingham and his wife Melissa named their son, Hogan, after the great pro who died in 1997. He was one of only five golfers to win each of the game's major championships at least once.
Riviera Country Club, site of the Nissan Open, has been linked to Hogan for more than 50 years. It was dubbed "Hogan's Alley" after he won the Los Angeles Open there in 1947 and the Los Angeles Open and U.S. Open in '48.
In '50 he chose Riviera and the Los Angeles Open for his return to tournament golf after an auto accident in '49 left him near death. He finished second, losing to Sam Snead in a playoff.
"There's a picture of Hogan in the clubhouse," Massingham says, "and I'm going to touch that picture every day before I go out to play."
Massingham played college golf and wanted to play the Tour, but his experiences in mini-tours led him on a career path to the PGA of America and a job as a teaching pro.
In '95, while playing in a club pro tournament at Palm Springs, Calif., Massingham became ill and had to withdraw from the tournament.
"They thought I was having a heat stroke," he recalls. "I was weak and felt faint."
The condition persisted until finally a doctor thought Massingham had the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
A specialist confirmed it, in a rather harsh way.
"He walked into the room, and said, 'Son, you'd better find a new profession,' " recalls Massingham. "It made me so mad. I took it as a challenge, and I'm still trying to beat it."
Listens to his body
Massingham says he doesn't know that much about the disease, but the American College of Physicians medical guide says the average life span after diagnosis is 25-30 years. Massingham describes his condition as having nerves "like electrical wires with the coating rubbed off. Sometimes the messages get crossed. You lose your coordination, and your motor skills diminish."
He takes injections every other day and stays as active as possible. However, he says he listens to his body and plans his workday around how he feels. The day before he qualified for the Nissan Open he says he felt so weak that he hardly got off the couch. But he felt better the day of the qualifier, shot 67 and earned one of two spots awarded to the 92 golfers who attempted to make the field.
Randy Marchman, who represents an equipment company on the tour, met Massingham through golf four or five years ago. A few years ago he gave Massingham an autographed picture of Hogan. Tuesday, he introduced him to other players at the Nissan.
"Brett is a hyper guy," says Marchman. "He was running around like crazy on Tuesday. He calmed down after I introduced him to a couple of the guys. He knows they're a lot like him. They play golf for a living. He works in the game, too, but in a different capacity."
Massingham says his goal this week is to play well and make the cut. His only disappointment is that Tiger Woods is not playing. He had hoped to get his autograph for Hogan, who is 4.
"He likes hockey and Tiger Woods,"
Massingham says. "I'm not even in his top five golfers."
© Copyright 2002 USA TODAY