Publish date:

Unplayable Lies A Golfing Family Copes With A Staggering Loss For The Second Time In Two Years

A father was on the golf course, and his son was at work. The
morning was crisp, bright, perfect. Twenty-two-year-old Davis G.
Sezna Jr., known as Deeg, was working in the south tower, 2
World Trade Center. His father, Davis Sr., was playing at Pine
Hill, a new public course in southern New Jersey, just down the
road from Pine Valley.

"Dad," Deeg would sometimes ask, "do you think someday I'll be
Pine Valley material?" Augusta National, Cypress Point, Seminole,
Pine Valley. Those are the four sacred corners of the shawl that
wraps private-club golf in the U.S. For many of its members, Pine
Valley is the ultimate sanctuary. Davis Sezna, 48, is one of
those members.

Deeg was employed by another Pine Valley member, Jimmy Dunne, a
managing principal at Sandler O'Neill & Partners, a
financial-services company. The father made the introduction,
but from there the son was on his own. Dunne and Deeg played a
round of golf together. Golf reveals a man; that's what Dunne
believes. Davis Sr. does too. "Golf's a great interview," he
says. Later Deeg came into the office for a sit-down meeting
with Dunne and the firm's other principals. Deeg was wearing a
suit. He was serious, energetic, respectful. He was offered a job.

"Can I start on May 14, Mr. Dunne?" Deeg asked. In other words,
graduate from Vanderbilt on a Friday, take the weekend off, then
begin work on Monday.

"No, you cannot," Dunne answered. "Take the summer off. Kiss a
pretty girl. You don't have to call me Mr. Dunne, and you don't
have to wear a suit."

Deeg took the summer off. He started work the day after Labor
Day. Wore a suit every day. Called his boss Mr. Dunne. He will
make it here doing something, Jimmy Dunne remembers thinking.
Banker, trader, salesman, something. On Sept. 11, Deeg's sixth
day on the job, he arrived for work a little after seven.

Deeg's father works in golf. He's an owner of a busy public
course outside Philadelphia, Hartefeld National, the site of a
Senior tour event in 1998 and '99. He's going into business with
the owner of Pine Hill, which is why he was there on that
beautiful Tuesday morning that so abruptly turned grim and gray.
Somebody pulled him off the course when the first plane smashed
into the north tower of the World Trade Center. He was watching
the terror unfold on TV when the second plane struck his son's
building. "I knew Deeg was on the 104th floor," he says. "The
plane hit, an hour passed, the building crumpled. A friend drove
me home."

The Sezna house is in Delaware, in the rolling countryside
outside Wilmington, near the Brandywine River, the pastoral land
the Wyeths have been painting for three generations. The kitchen
dates to the 17th century. The backyard is a long, sweeping hill,
ending at a pond. The three Sezna boys would hit wedge shots and
take divots out of that lawn all summer long. Gail Sezna, their
mother, would look the other way. Her father-in-law was a superb
golfer. Her husband was the 1973 Delaware Open champion. Her sons
were being raised in the game as well.

"My dad used to say, 'A golfer is a gentleman,'" Davis Sr. says.
"I raised my sons to understand that. The first time I brought
Deeg to the course, he was five. As we left, he said, 'Was I a
gentleman today, Daddy?'" He dabs his eyes with a napkin embossed
with scallop shells.

This was last Thursday, two days after the attack. The father had
spent the previous day in the detritus of the World Trade Center,
searching for his son. Now he was in his backyard, in the "final
innings of hope," as he put it. Friends were visiting. The men
were golfers, members of Pine Valley, Seminole, Merion, all clubs
to which the father belongs. Sezna also owns several popular
restaurants in Delaware. He was pouring good wine and slicing
aged cheddar. It only looked like a late-summer cocktail party.
The chatter could not mask the sorrow. Tom Fazio, the course
architect, telephoned. He's a Pine Valley member too.

"Jimmy Dunne, God bless him, he was in there in the rubble with
us," the father told Fazio. Dunne's firm had 125 employees on the
104th floor. Half of them were missing. More than a few were
serious golfers, or the sons of serious golfers. Dunne is a
serious golfer. He wasn't in the office on that horrid Tuesday
morning because he was attempting to qualify for the U.S.
Mid-Amateur, a lifelong dream for him.

The conversation with Fazio came to a close. "They can rip off
your arms and legs, Tom, you just don't want them taking your
children," Davis Sr. told him. "I love you, Tom Fazio. Give Sue
and your kids a big hug from me."

Deeg once got his handicap down to four. Every third year, on a
midsummer weekend, he'd play in the two-day Father-Son tournament
at Pine Valley. One year the Seznas were in contention as they
stood on the 16th tee in the second round. The format was
alternate shot. One generation hits a shot, then the other
generation plays the next. The son hooked his drive. The father
needed to hit a big sweeping hook to reach the green, which is
bordered by a water hazard on the right.

"Why don't you punch a safe one down in front, I'll chip up, and
you'll make the putt for par," the son said.

"Nah, I can hook a five-iron on," the father said.

The five-iron shot didn't hook a bit. As it was heading for the
water, Deeg said, "How old do I have to be before you'll start
listening to me?" He was 15. From that double bogey on, his
father listened.

Last Thursday, Davis Sr. was showing a friend a picture of his
favorite foursome. Three boys and their father, all in shorts and
polo shirts and smiles, standing on the 14th tee at Seminole, in
North Palm Beach, Fla., the Atlantic Ocean behind them, nothing
but years of golf in front of them. The father was on the far
right, looking proud. He started to identify his boys. "That's
Willie next to me," said Davis Sr. "He's a senior in high school,
plays to a three [handicap]. That's Deeg on the left. Between
them, that's...."

The name never came out. The boy was Teddy, the youngest child of
Gail and Davis Sezna. He died last year, at age 15, on the first
Saturday in July in an early-morning boating accident. The father
and son were cruising in a 30-foot motorboat when they ran into a
steel light pole. It took two hours for rescuers to find Teddy's
body. It took seven hours to get everyone through the receiving

Last Saturday the father was back in Manhattan, searching for
signs of his namesake in hope's final at bat. Somehow the father
found the courage, wisdom and grace to say, "I live for tomorrow.
I'm inspired by tomorrow. There will always be tomorrow."

Willie Sezna now has a standing offer to join his father, every
summer, in the Pine Valley Father-Son. They'll play in Deeg's
memory. They'll play in Teddy's memory. They'll play until the
day comes when they can play no more. When that day will be, no
one can say. The Seznas know that far too well.

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II Searching Last Saturday in Manhattan, Gail (left), Davis (right) and Willie still hadn't given up hope that they'd find Deeg alive.

COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE SEZNA FAMILY Old times Deeg and Davis stopped for a photo op on St. Andrew's Swilken Bridge in 1996.

"They can rip off your arms and legs," Sezna said, "you just
don't want them taking your children."