DANVILLE -- In 2001, shortly after Bob Hammer caught the biggest break of his life, he decided to pay it forward.
He had no idea how big his modest idea would become -- or how many lives it would impact.
Hammer, a two-time survivor of testicular cancer, is founder of the Have a Ball Foundation. Each year it sponsors one of the nation's largest charity golf tournaments. Hammer and his wife, Kim, run the organization out of the family's Danville garage, and each year funnel thousands of dollars to cancer organizations locally and nationwide.
So far, they have raised about $1.5 million to aid cancer victims.
The first tournament was held in 2005 in Sunnyvale. This year two are scheduled -- for Monday, July 15 and again Sept. 16 at the Crow Canyon Country Club, 711 Silver Lake Dr., Danville.
Hammer was 31, a husband and father of one daughter in 1999, when he was diagnosed with cancer the first time. He had a testicle removed, but the disease returned with a vengeance a year later.
A cantaloupe-sized tumor near his stomach led to 26 rounds of chemotherapy.
Days before a scheduled surgery that would have prevented him from having more children, he flew to Austin, Texas to attend the Lance Armstrong Foundation's Ride for the Roses fundraiser.
While there, he met Armstrong's oncologist, Dr. Craig Nichols, who had treated Armstrong for testicular cancer and agreed to review Hammer's case. Convinced the tumor's remnants were merely scar tissue, the doctor advised against surgery.
"One of the masses was on the spine," Hammer recalled. "(Nichols') initial concern was that I wouldn't walk off the surgery table. I ended up listening to his advice and not having the surgery. I wasn't really concerned about having any more children then; it was more about surviving at that point."
The ordeal wasn't the first time cancer had struck Hammer's family
"My mother passed away from breast cancer on Christmas Day when I was 9 years old," he said. "I've had a lot of experience with cancer"
When the couple was later able to naturally conceive their son, Josh, a grateful Hammer began to think about ways to help others struggling with cancer. Recalling his experience organizing golf tournaments for his employer at the time, a San Carlos printing firm, he decided to attempt his own golf tournament and began sending out emails seeking sponsors. The first event raised $52,000.
"I had a goal of sending a check for $2,500 to the LIVESTRONG Foundation," he said. "I was not really anticipating a second event, let alone 10."
This summer's tournaments will be the 11th and 12th events in nine years. Hammer hopes to raise $285,000 this season for approximately 22 different organizations.
Those groups include Cancer Support Community, which provides a wide range of free services to about 2,000 cancer patients in the Bay Area each year. Counseling, support groups and educational programs help support patients, their families, caregivers and survivors, said executive director Jim Bouquin. All services are free, and no one is turned away. Hammer's foundation has donated $18,000 to the group since 2009, Bouquin said.
—Our average cost to underwrite care is about $600 per person per year," he said. "Their support has underwritten our care for 30 cancer patients and their families."
Hammer's contribution to Cancer Support Community extends beyond money, Bouquin said.
"He's lighting the way for other folks and showing them what's important," he said. "The money he raises is the second best thing about Bob. The best is that he's a role model for those dealing with cancer and a role model for everyone . . . He looked at his worst situation, survived it and is now giving back,. He's the whole package as far as I'm concerned."
With months of work about to culminate in his foundation's big yearly events, Hammer, his wife Kim, and children Shayna, 13, and Josh, 10, have little spare time, but Hammer hasn't lost the personal vision he first realized eight years ago.
"We've targeted this more and more local as we've gone along," he said. "We started realizing that making relationships with these local non-profits ... sharing what we're doing and what we're about , has been very rewarding, along with knowing we're able to help a lot of people. It still is a small little thing out of our garage . . . (but) it's not hard to stay motivated when you make these kinds of connections with people."
Have a Ball Foundation will host its annual golf tournaments on Monday, July 15 and Sept. 16 at Crow Canyon Country Club, 711 Silver Lake Dr., Danville.
For information or to donate to the foundation, visit www.haveaballgolf.com.