Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Belvedere Golf Club is a tight, hilly 6,400-yard course tucked in the rolling aspen parkland outside Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In 2003, scratch player Bob MacDermott shot a course-record 65 to win the club championship, a title he defended last summer. These were striking wins for a 49-year-old who only started playing as he neared 30, never mind that MacDermott also works full-time running programs for the developmentally disabled. But none of this adequately explains why he's perhaps the world's most remarkable golfer.

August 23, 1987, was a perfect summer day in Saskatchewan. The flat, epic landscapes of the Canadian prairie evoke the vast American plains where Clark Kent became Superman. Bob MacDermott grew up here, on a farm near Coleville. With his wife, Janie, and their two young children, Dylan and Shannon, he had returned to Canada in 1985, trading work on the oil rigs of Indonesia and Malaysia for a job as a drilling consultant. He took up golf and in two years had whittled his handicap to 7.

A local tournament was starting that Sunday, but MacDermott decided not to enter: He thought it was more important to help his father, Don, a wheat farmer, harvest his crop. At about 2 p.m., MacDermott took a tractor and cultivator out to the far end of the farm. Working a section, he drew the cultivator too close around a power pole and brought it down.

"I know I should have gone back to the house and called the power company," he says. "But I was mad at myself, and that anger got me into trouble."

MacDermott hopped off the tractor and dragged the heavy pole from atop the cultivator. Inexplicably, he began to think it was a phone line, not a power line. The pole remained in the tractor's path, and it would have been a hassle to divert around it. He recalls re-approaching the pole, and then...darkness.

Driving past on the adjacent highway, Calvin Humphrey, a neighboring farmer, saw the downed power pole and stopped his pickup truck. A semiconscious MacDermott was sprawled on the open field, smoke twisting off his charred sweatpants. He'd been electrocuted. The scorching heat of the currents had fused the rubber soles of his running shoes to his feet. His baseball hat was still on, but the top was riddled with scorched pinholes as if by a shotgun blast. More than 14,000 volts had shot through his body.

Humphrey ran back to his property and found another farmer, Jeff Graham, to help carry MacDermott into Humphrey's truck. They raced to the tiny hospital in nearby Kindersley. Graham later told MacDermott that sitting beside him in the truck "you were so hot you were still sizzling, and I could hear you cooking from the inside out."

The hospital wasn't equipped to deal with MacDermott's massive injuries, which included third- and fourth-degree burns covering 40 percent of his body. While being prepped for the two-hour-long ambulance ride to the burn unit at Saskatoon University Hospital, MacDermott hallucinated but felt no pain--his nerve endings had been charred away. Once he was strapped into a stretcher, the ambulance sped off to Saskatoon. Janie and MacDermott's brother, Rick, had been notified of the accident and followed.

Then Bob MacDermott's luck really went south.

Shooting down the highway at 85 mph, the ambulance blew two tires, hit a ditch and rolled several times. The back door flew open and the naked MacDermott was thrown from both the ambulance and his stretcher and skidded into the adjoining field.




"I guess," he says. "Still, it should've been a 63."

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