Every golfer has a story of the putt they holed, the chance they missed, and of the drive that was long and straight. Not every golfer, however, has a backstory that grabs one’s attention, that shows the human spirit and can fuel the can-do attitude that is inside every one of us.
The Golfers First Profiles came from a deep belief that everyone has a story, that is not only worth telling, but also worth sharing. Perhaps you or someone that you know is in need of a boost of inspiration or a signpost to what can be achieved.
Mike explains how he had got involved in many sports and found that Golf was right for him. He talks about losing count of the number of surgeries that he has had and that his mantra is simply “that you just have to get through things”.
Listen to EDGA’s Tony Bennett chatting with Mike Gays
Typical of a man who deals with things head on, Mike explains that the decision to have his leg amputated was quite simple really. He took the doctors by surprise by taking the long term view that it would be better for his health if he was to have an amputation. The hardest part was telling his parents who had lived the experience with him for the best part of 25 years.
It is revealing that Mike looks at the improvement that he has been able to make in life as a result of not suffering the same pain that he had been experiencing previously.
Mike tells me that he feels lucky to have what he considers to be the best disability when compared with other and clearly says that he has learned to be resilient. Enjoy the moment also seems to be one of Mikes maxims and he loves competition, which I suspect is true regardless of who he competing with, even with himself.
In this typically forthright conversation Mike reveals how a message from Olympic and Major Champion Justin Rose was just the inspiration that he and other team members needed ahead of representing England Golf in the European Team Championship for Golfers with disability.
I hope that you enjoy my conversation with Mike as much as I did.
From a traumatic accident that could have killed him to walking again and winning golf tournaments, Mike Jones’s story is intrinsically linked with the sport he loves. “Golf saved my life”, is not a line you hear every day.
Listen to EDGA’s Tony Bennett chatting with Mike Jones
In October 2015, proud Welshman Mike Jones, an electrical engineer and single figure golfer, climbed astride his Yamaha MT09 Sports Tourer motorbike for the trip across the Severn Bridge from Cwmbran into England for a shift in Bristol. With a toot of his horn he said goodbye to wife Beth without a care in the world.
Four days later he would wake up in hospital in Swansea in severe pain and confusion. Mike has been told he nearly died at the scene of the accident and lost a lot of blood. A leg was badly crushed, his thighbone was rammed through his pelvis by the crash. These bones could be rebuilt in complicated operations but his lower left leg had to be amputated three days after the accident; the start of a long road that would include 22 hours on the surgeon’s table, six months of regular out-patient visits and a hip replacement as recently as last November. And even then it could have been far worse. His biker’s protective clothing may have saved his life as such was the injury, more exposure of the wound could easily have led to a fatal infection.
The super-keen sportsman, former footballer, a golfer who had been close to scratch (a 2 handicap), would later learn that he was still very much “just Mike” but right then, in a room on his own and desperate for sleep, all he could consider was his new identity as “Mike with a lost leg”.
He explains: “It was so traumatic. Your mind is whizzing at 100mph. I’m feeling my leg but it’s not there, a phantom sensation. I struggled with this so badly. They tried all different drugs with it. Nothing helped. I came very close in hospital to a breakdown. I remember one evening banging my fists on a tray, holding the buzzer and the nurse came in and said ‘What’s going on Mike?’ I don’t like asking anyone for anything and I was trying, but I lost it. I was screaming at the top of my voice, you either have to get me out of this room or give me something to put me to sleep… I thought I was going mad.”
Somehow Mike soldiered on.
A move to a ward with other guys in a similar condition helped, as they could talk and support each other with a bit of banter. The second telling element of his initial recovery came because Mike was holding on to his love of golf as a focus in this most difficult time. Could he ever play again?
He watched golf videos in his hospital bed and found clips from one golfer in particular, Manuel De Los Santos. De Los Santos hails from the Dominican Republic and lost his left leg in a traffic accident to destroy his dream of playing professional baseball in the US. He would not only later discover a new sport in golf but he would excel in it, as a fine striker of the ball which has seen him win trophies on the European Disabled Golf Association (EDGA) Tournament Series and become something of an emblem for EDGA and its players as to just what can be achieved.
Mike said: “I was obsessed with playing again. It saved my life. I really don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had golf as a focus, God knows what, I would have ended up in not a very nice place I think, so it literally saved my life.
“I watched videos of Manuel and heard him speak with such enthusiasm. You don’t often get the chance to reset your life but that was my opportunity there. That’s the attitude I want, I thought – I want the can-do attitude. Saying it and doing it is another thing, so when I am feeling a bit low or sorry for myself or ‘woe is me I’ve lost my leg’, I watch the video and it’s ‘right, just get on with it Mike, stop moaning about it’.”
Fast forward less than 18 months to February 2017 and Mike Jones is a long way from that hospital bed. He is actually teeing it up in an EDGA tournament in the sunshine in the Spanish Open, playing so well he won the Stableford trophy with two solid rounds off a new 19 handicap; while also meeting Manuel De Los Santos in the flesh and making a new friend.
“To actually meet Manuel in Spain and for him to speak to me like a real friend and give me advice and shake my hand, that’s the beauty of EDGA. And also Juan Postigo Arce [another top EDGA player] – you just get it, you just feel that positivity coming out of them towards you and that’s what I want to deliver to the people I play golf with. Manuel has been a big role model of mine in the way he approached his disability, and he told me, ‘don’t let your disability define you’. So I’m not Mike with a lost leg, I’m just Mike, and that is what’s really important.”
After his trauma and the surgery in 2015, Mike showed plenty of bravery as he learned to walk again as an out-patient with the help of physiotherapist Jo and staff at Rookwood Hospital in Cardiff’s Artificial Limb and Appliance Centre, before later continuing his improvement under the expert care of staff at the nearby Morrello Clinic in Newport.
Mike said, smiling at the memory: “I was at the limb centre on my first visit and supposed to be holding onto the parallel bars but I was swinging my arms; all I was thinking of was ‘Can I swing a golf club?’ And Jo called out ‘What are you doing!’ They were in shock! Worried I was about to fall over. We all laughed about it. I remember taking my first steps with my mechanical knee which was a very strange sensation. I walked maybe three steps then.”
He adds: “I thought maybe I am slightly different, like Beth kept telling me. I found that positive attitude switch inside me, and you have to have a go. Don’t wait and dither thinking ‘Can I do it, should I do it’, go and do it!”
Only six months after the bike crash, Michael Overton from the Welsh Disabled Golf Association (WDGA) met up with Mike at Green Meadow Driving Range for Mike’s first return to hitting any sort of golf shots. He hit a succession of wedges that really impressed Overton who urged him to take part in a WDGA golf day only a month or so later at Peterstone Golf Club. Here, Mike met two new friends whose welcome and support would spur him on to great things in the year ahead.
Mike said: “I played with two guys, Richard Willis and Bill Savage and they were absolutely amazing with me. I was on crutches and really struggling to get in and out of the golf buggy. They’re both leg amputees and they helped me with my crutches and helped pick up clubs off the ground for me. I was off 24 [handicap] then and I only got 10 points [in Stableford scoring] but I was really pleased with 10 points! Afterwards I slept for two days I was so exhausted, my hip was so sore.”
From here, Mike’s golf improvement allied to his work on physical conditioning would be a revelation and is much talked about in EDGA circles today. Mike would win the Stableford in both the Welsh and Scottish Opens of 2016 before his hip replacement slowed him down for a spell. Supported by wife Beth, who has been a regular caddy, Mike has now become a leading player in EDGA tournaments culminating with his win in Spain this February. The organisation is backed by 23 national golf federations as it helps golfers with a disability to compete internationally as ‘Golfers First’, while allowing them to measure their progress in the Ranking for Golfers with a Disability (R4GD) supported by PING. The Ranking is relevant here because less than two years after the accident that nearly killed him, after thousands of golf balls hit on good days and bad, Mike, at the time of writing, is currently number one in the Nett Ranking, actually ahead of those friends Juan Postigo Arce and Manuel De Los Santos.
Today, now that Mike has won his toughest battle, he is keen to help others who are in need.
“The first thing for any person who is disabled or has suffered [other illnesses] or are struggling with a condition, golf can turn your life around. You don’t have to be a superstar, all you have to do is be able to hit a golf ball and putt a golf ball. You can go to a golf club and meet people. It’s all about not being isolated because when you have suffered a disability it’s quite easy to turn in on yourself and not communicate with others. So golf and golf for the disabled especially is a great forum for people to start communicating with each other and realise you’re not on your own. There are people out there who can help you, there are people who can turn your life around.
“I am always telling people you can do it, you can do it, you can do it. Come and play golf with us and make yourself healthy again.”
Mike was recently appointed as a Golf Development Wales (GDW) Inclusive Ambassador and he will be promoting inclusiveness in the sport, as well as assisting with events and meetings to promote GDW schemes and initiatives.
Zoe Thacker, GDW development officer, said: “Mike is a real inspiration and force for good to people with a disability. He constantly spreads the message that golf can be enjoyed by everyone.”
Mike says he is only looking ahead now, wishing to support other golfers while honing his own game to try to get back to single figures (he has been working with respected PGA coach Rob Moss). He remains hugely thankful for everyone who has backed him.
“The guys I’ve played with for 20 years have been amazing in the way they have supported me, and the guys with a disability have been like another level again. For example, EDGA player Mathieu Lebon (France), a fellow leg amputee, has been a very good friend while finding my way in the events, and Ian Halliwell of British Inclusive Golf has also been so generous with his support.
“Also, my golf club Woodlake Park GC has been fantastic, they support me no end and they have had a couple of collections for me to help me with travelling and tournament entries.
“The R&A has been brilliant; the Golf Union of Wales, GDW and my family have all helped me out, as has my best friend Gary Derraven who has encouraged me from the night of the accident until today.”
Mike knows that the injury has changed him in other ways. He admits to now being a “cry baby” and happy to open up his emotional side, who’ll sing Country & Western songs to Beth in the car (Josh Turner and Garth Brooks), while showing steely determination on both the golf course and in the gym as he gets better at golf and fitter and stronger. Just what you would expect from a “Welsh Dragon” who follows the nation’s footballers and rugby men with great passion.
Of all his supporters Mike reserves most praise for wife (and caddy!) Beth.
He said: “From the day of my accident Beth has been the rock and foundation of every part of my recovery and new life that has started since losing my leg. I would not be the man I am now without her help every day from when I wake until I put my head on the pillow at night. I love her more than life itself.”
Mike’s story is not too dissimilar from a number of the golfers involved with EDGA, who share a unique bond with each other along with certain characteristics: courage, fortitude, determination and often a sense of humour as they have not let their injuries or disabilities define them as people. Rather they have accepted these as a starting point of the second chapters in life and they compete in golf tournaments around Europe knowing their red numbers on the leaderboards are not just for them but also for the friends and family around them. They are all ‘Golfers First’, while Mike Jones is also – very much now – just Mike.
In this interview with EDGAGOLF TV, golfer Sebas Lorente tells us how he transitioned to play golf again after his accident. One of the most popular players on the EDGA tour, Sebas reveals that his motivation was to play golf with his son and tells us that the community he had at the golf club where he was a member, really helped him to re-socialise. His advice for those who do not play is to give the game a try.
Eight Minutes with Sebas Lorente
by Tony Bennett, November 2014
“Hi, my name is Sebas Lorente. I come from Spain. My Golf Club is beautiful Terramar in Sitges, Barcelona. My golf handicap is 22.8 and my impairment is that I am paraplegic.”
How did you start to play golf?
“Well, I started to play golf when I was seven in my home club and I had the accident when I was 20, and I restarted to play golf from a wheel chair 23 years later when I discovered the Paragolfer, I discovered this machine to play golf and I was pushing to do it because I wanted to play with my son. Then I looked over the Internet; I found this wheel chair, I got one and started to play golf again.”
What does golf mean to you?
“I have been involved all my life with golf because I grew up in a golf club with all my friends. Our sport was the golf. When I had the accident I kept on as a member of my golf club even though I couldn’t play of course. My friends were there, so my social life was into the golf club. When I restarted to play golf with the Paragolfer, it meant for me to be able to play again, the sport I love. I restarted to do the same things I did before my accident, playing with my friends, playing with my children and to spend a lot of time of my life doing something that I really love and this is playing golf.”
What has been your best moment in golf?
“No doubt, it was when I won the European Championship in wheel chair category in Zell-Am-See [golf course] in Austria, 2010. I remember perfectly that moment especially when the last putt on the last hole, it was a three metres putt perfectly. In fact I didn’t know at that moment if I was the winner or not, but I expected to be because I played real good golf there and I put the putt in, I was concentrated only on that putt and I put the putt in and I felt really good and I saw my wife, this sign [thumps up]; I knew then that meant that I was the winner.”
What are the hardest type of Golf courses for you to play?
“For wheelchair players to play golf, it is very challenging when we have to play into hilly Golf courses because any little balance that you get is very important for us because we have no balance, so we have to play like that [leans to the left], we have to play like that [leans to the right], it’s very difficult for us. We really like to play in flat Golf courses but also it’s a challenge for us. The more difficult is the Golf course, the more challenging it is for us.”
What do you like about the tournaments for Golfers with disability?
“The most I like in this kind of tournaments is the atmosphere. I’ve played more than fifty national tournaments until last year. I really like and enjoy to meet my friends because all the players are my friends. From time to time you get a new player and in a few tournaments, a new friend. I’m really excited to wait for the next tournament because I wanted to meet my friends and to compete against them, to be with them and to share the moments of some days with them.”
You play most of your Golf with non-impaired players, how does that work?
“It works perfectly because Golf is a sport that you have the option to equilibrate with your handicap, with your Golf handicap. In the beginning when non-disabled players are playing with a disabled player they used to have a compassion, “poor guy, poor guy please, you can drop here, please, no I cannot drop here”. “Why I can’t drop here is because I’m disabled you cannot drop and so I don’t have a free drop here; that after I always say the same, after they’ve beat down two or three times; they don’t say that anymore, “You cannot drop here.” No compassion… [Laughter] but it’s a perfect game to play with disabled and non-disabled players.”
What is your favourite Golf course?
“My home club of course because it seems to be the designed especially for wheel chair players because it’s totally flat and Club de Golfe Terramar, I recommend everybody to go to Clube de Golfe Club Terramar to play, because it’s by the sea, it’s beautiful. Probably the most challenging golf course that I have ever played it could be in Spain in PGA. I think it’s ranked the number two tournament Golf course.”
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start playing Golf?
“Of course, of course, the first thing you think is that to play Golf means to spend not only one hour of sport, it means to be four, five, six hours with your friends, sharing your time, having fun, and doing, practicing sport, so I do recommend Golf as a best option for as a sport for paraplegic people.”
Charles-Henri Quélin played just one EDGA tournament in 2014, winning the EDGA Algarve Open at Vila Sol and finishing in 16th position on the 2014 ranking.
In this interview for EDGAGOLF.com, Charles Henri Quélin tells us how he started play, some of his highlights playing golf at a high level, how he enjoys playing in tournaments for golfers with disability and shares his advice for people with impairment wishing to start playing golf.
Five Minutes with Charles-Henri Quélin
by Tony Bennett, November 2014
I am Charles-Henri Quélin, I am from France, I live in Paris, my home club is Saint-Non-la-Bretèche where they used to have the Lancôme Trophy, so it’s quite famous. All the big names like Palmer, Jack Nicklaus all came.
I had the luck that my Father live on the golf course, so I start to play golf when I was young. I start to play right handed because I have a disabled with my right arm, it’s really shorter than my left arm. So Cécilia Mourgue d’Algue, she is very famous and she told me one day when I was very young, OK what’s your problem, with your left arm, with your right arm? So she say, so maybe should try to play left, because your left arm is really longer than your right arm, so it could be easier to play like this, instead of when you will grow up it will be really difficult. So I decide to change after many operations, like they tried to make it longer and finally I start again in left, so I keep my putting in right. And because I have been working my golf hard, I could be able to play for the National team [France], like with name like Grégory Havret, with kind of people like that for four years so. So now I just joined the, because I am 38 years old so I joined the disabled golfers for three years now. I still have some tournaments with valid golfers, but I really enjoy the spirit. I think that it’s amazing to see like people to play golf with big big handicaps, so I really have a good time, every time I play a tournament of disabled golfers it’s impressive.
I had the luck to play tournaments of golf like Open French Open, Lancôme Trophy or even the Open of Brasil, which is professional, but it’s nice to play these kind of tournaments because you see things that you can’t believe. So I really have a good time every time I play with all of those guys, it’s really good fun, and I like the spirit, everybody is like come on and they are putting everybody in the same, the love of golf you know, so it’s not because you have a problem of leg or, just having fun to play and it’s a game so your having fun, it’s good.
What is your best golfing highlight so far?
I would say, I have a very good souvenir of, well we finished third once in Italy in 2000 . I like to play golf by team you know, it’s really good fun, like the Ryder Cup, you can see the guys it’s so emotion. And we finished third the the European Championship and so it was really a good souvenir, a good souvenir. And I would say for my favourite golf course, I played one British Amateur in the North of Ireland in Royal County Down and it was a very good souvenir of this course, it was tough, I think that Simon Dyson won the qualifying, qualification and I think that it was Graham Storm who won the tournament this year.
What advice would you give to someone with an impairment who would like to start playing golf?
Well I would say that maybe to check on the website, it depends on what is the problem, and to compare his problem with a problem that a guy that is playing disabled golfer and how does he do, and it depends if the problem is with the legs or the arms, or I don’t know but I would say that there is still a solution. You have to find it, by yourself for sure, but you can have a look, how do they do. So perseverance and to believe in it, and I am sure that you can still, OK if you don’t have any arms it’s not easy, but if you can take the club, it’s OK, you will find a solution.