Golf Really Did Save My Life

submitted by Jeffrey R.  from London, Ontario

We quite often hear the statement, “Golf saved my life.” It’s a phrase which stems from one’s passion for the game, and how golf has, indeed, given someone a new lease on life. In fact, I will be forever grateful for how golf has changed my life forever. And there’s no turning back.

As a golf journalist for parts of five decades, I am blessed to work within an industry based on sportsmanship, honesty, ethics and etiquette. I’ve had the good fortune to meet and befriend some of the game’s legends, including Mike Weir and Lorie Kane. And as an avid golfer myself, I’ve been blessed to have made friendships which will last a lifetime.

It is often said that golf mirrors life – you can never perfect the game of golf, yet there’s always a chance at redemption: post a bogey, come back with a birdie. As a disabled athlete, golf has given me the ultimate mulligan.

Shortly after my birth, doctors told my parents I would never be able to walk properly, running was an impossibility, and that one day I may be dependent on a wheelchair. Numerous spinal and skeletal deformities from head to foot, most notably severe club feet, an underdeveloped left leg, Spina Bifida Occulta, a protruding pelvis, and jaw and neck deformities see me visit a team of doctors on a monthly basis. If visits to a doctor’s office awarded me Air Miles, I’d be able to fly to the Old Course on a weekly basis.

As a youngster, I admired the tenacity of Jack Nicklaus, and borrowed the Golden Bear’s competitive spirit as I fought my own battles on the playing field. Despite my aforementioned challenges, I played many competitive sports, including baseball for 33 years, and pitched with the semi-professional London Majors of the Intercounty Baseball League. I retired in 2001. At the time, I was a casual golfer with a handicap index of 18. And with baseball put on the shelf, I put all of my competitiveness into my career as a freelance journalist.

By 2003, at 5’8” I weighed almost 210 pounds, had dangerously high blood pressure and was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. I also suffered a Transient Ischemic Attack – a mini-stroke. This was my wakeup call.

Even then, my golf bag stood in the corner of my office as a reminder of how I would rather be spending my afternoons. Shortly after being read the riot act by my family physician, I sat in my office, pondering my fate. Of course, my golf clubs were the only things I could see – and thank God. With no exaggeration, I can honestly say that I knew instantly how I would turn life’s double bogey into an eagle. I decided then and there to make golf my sport.

With apologies to Ben Hogan, I can attest to the fact that “the secret is in the dirt.” As I do today, I beat balls at the range until my hands bled. I walked the course during the proverbial 100 rounds per season, honing my skills at the Rene Muylaert-designed Echo Valley Golf Club just west of London. Today, I’m a member at ClubLink’s Greenhills Golf Club – another Muylaert design. He passed away in 2005, but as owner of a practice range just minutes from my home, Muylaert allowed me to practice whenever I could find the time, and didn’t charge me a dime. I’ll be forever grateful for his kind gesture.

In 2010, I needed another challenge and hit golf balls for eight straight hours at Muylaert’s old range, raising money for the London Anti-Bullying Coalition. This June – Stroke Awareness Month – for a fifth time my web publication, LondonOntarioGolf.com, will award the annual Heart Award to someone who has given back to the game of golf through unselfish acts and philanthropy. Weir was our winner in 2014. The photo included with this story includes members of the Weir family accepting on behalf of Mike.

Today, I lead a healthy lifestyle. My weight is good, I am no longer considered pre-diabetic and I am taking only half of the blood pressure medicine once prescribed.

I’m proud of my low single-digit handicap on the links, but golf doesn’t get any easier for me, as my physical struggles grow stronger year by year. But without golf, it’s difficult to say what my quality of life would be like. Golf is my passion. I write about the game, play the game, and, like you, take my bogeys in stride – because tomorrow really is another day. And for me, there’s no turning back.


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