Ben Pochet wasn’t the only one who had the week of October 23 marked on his calendar this past fall.
That’s because this season’s PIAA Championships at Heritage Hills represented plenty more than just a couple rounds of golf. It represented hard work, dedication and a desire to return to one of the state’s most challenging golf courses.
And it represented a personal goal that Pochet had not set out to achieve alone.
Almost six months after Pochet’s maternal grandfather, Bill Bowers, experienced life-threatening complications from cancer treatment that nearly took away his ability to walk and talk, the pair had an agreement in place: Pochet would get through the grind that is the high school postseason while his grandfather, who resides outside of Mechanicsburg, would rehab every single day through the summer — the two of them planning to converge again at the PIAA Championships in York.
“It was the goal for both of us,” recalled Pochet, who is committed to play at Drexel University next season. “I wanted to qualify for states and he wanted to be healthy enough to come and watch me there. We knew that would probably be the earliest that he would be able to come out (to watch) with his rehab and everything that he was going through.”
In late May, doctors had found a melanoma spot on Bowers’ head and another on his liver during one of his annual scans. After undergoing immunotherapy, his body reacted incorrectly and began to create antibodies that attacked his muscles. In the coming days, Bowers began to experience muscle fatigue, double-vision and issues with his heart.
“Thirty-two days after I checked into the hospital, I came home in a wheelchair,” said Bowers. “I could hardly get around with a walker. That was hard, that was really hard.”
Motivated by his grandfather’s rehabilitation and his own personal goals, Pochet put together one of the most dominant postseason runs in area history. For his impressive efforts and his pursuit of perfection on the course, Pochet has been named the Mercury’s All-Area Golfer of the Year for the second straight season.
“When I started to focus on the postseason, that was definitely one of the things I wanted to accomplish,” said Pochet. “I wanted to get to states to be able to share that moment with my grandfather. I knew he was at home working hard. That definitely drove me.”
Bowers, who had attended just about all of his grandson’s postseason runs through his first three seasons with Spring-Ford, was forced to miss all of this year’s postseason events leading up to states. It was the most difficult part of the process for Bowers, who has been among his grandson’s biggest fans since he first picked up a club.
“That was probably one of the hardest parts,” said Bowers. “I’d watched Ben play all the way back to his Junior PGA events and up through high school. It was tough to know that I would miss most of his last season.”
Bowers was kept in the loop all throughout the postseason by text messages and phone calls from Ben’s parents, Marc and Susan Pochet. He was able to follow along as his grandson put together some of his best work to date.
He was locked into his phone as Pochet picked up his first Pioneer Athletic Conference individual title with an even-par 71 at Gilbertsville in late September.
He was following along religiously again when Pochet led Spring-Ford to their first team title since 2012 with a win over Methacton a week later as he fired a round-low 1-under 34.
Bowers was scrolling through his phone during treatment when Pochet stormed back from down three strokes with three holes to go to defend his District 1 title at Turtle Creek.
“I still remember that day,” said Bowers of districts. “I was down at the hospital getting a swallowing test and every now and then I’d tell the doctor, ‘Okay, I’ve got to take a break now and check my phone.’ Finally when we all were done, my doctor asked, ‘What’s going on with your phone?’ I just smiled and told him that my grandson had just won the District 1 Championship coming from behind.
“That was such a great moment. I was so proud.”
It was, as Pochet himself would describe it, the best round he’d ever played in a tournament. Pochet shot an astounding 7-under 65 at Turtle Creek on Day Two to rally to a two-stroke victory ahead of Central Bucks East’s Patrick Sheehan, who had led the tournament’s first 35 holes.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been that focused on winning a tournament in my entire life,” said Pochet, who posted five birdies on the decisive back-nine. “It was a different feeling to be chasing a tournament, rather than a number. That in itself is something that was really cool for me. I learned so much from that.”
Then it all became official when Pochet qualified for states with a runner-up finish at the East Regional Tournament, just a stroke away from defending his crown. Pochet shot a 1-under 71 at Golden Oaks, edged out by Warwick’s Brock Fassnacht who claimed the title at 2-under.
With the news, Bowers knew he’d need to up his rehab in order to be ready for the big day.
“We’ve got a nice, long deck out back. So when I first started rehabbing, I’d do about five loops around the deck,” said Bowers. “By the time states came around, I was doing 25 a day.
“Ben would send me messages all the time, ‘Keep on walking, Papa. I want to see you at states.’”
Then, both their goals came to fruition on the morning of October 23. Bowers, with the assistance of a cane and a golf cart, was present to watch Pochet’s final go at the PIAA Championships.
“I was gonna get down to York and see him play if I had to do it in a wheelchair,” said Bowers, “I wasn’t going to miss it.”
Bowers cruised the course, frequently climbing out of the cart to catch a better view around the putting greens as Pochet finished tied for 10th overall over the stretch of the two-day tournament. He opened the tournament with a 4-over 75, then closed it out with a 74 on Day Two.
This season’s run at states was perhaps one of the first tournaments, though, where Pochet’s final score hardly mattered.
What mattered most on those days was family, highlighted by a grandfather’s drive to be there for his grandson even while facing the darkest of days.
No matter where his golf game takes him in the future, Pochet will always be brought back to that afternoon at Heritage Hills and the moment he shared with his grandfather as he walked off No. 18 for the final time as a high schooler.
“He shook my hand and told me he was proud of me,” recalled Pochet with a smile. “I just looked back at him and told him that I’m even more proud of him.”
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