On August 26th, 2016, I went from being a “scratch” handicapper – a PGA professional – to a life in a wheelchair in one day. A battle with spinal cancer left me with no predictable possibility of ever playing golf again.
I must mention that my wife Orla (who has Multiple Sclerosis) was eight months pregnant at the time and it was the busiest time of the year in my role as Golf Director at Rush Links Golf Club. It was a nightmare.
Fast forward to June 2021, and after five years of constant inconsistencies in our lives, a tangible new beginning seems to be on the horizon. My cancer has been in remission for four years now and we have finally moved from Piltown in Kilkenny to our new home in Tramore with our two girls. An 80-minute round trip to her future school is now a five-minute walk.
In March 2020, I launched the 3 off the tee podcast with my friend and PGA colleague Harry Ewing. It was a huge success. The great Pádraig Harrington agreed to be our first guest and not only that, he invited us to record the episode at his home. We started at the top.
Seventy-five episodes and 100,000 downloads later, we’re joined by multiple Major winners, World No. 1s, caddies, Ryder Cup captains and commentators, CEOs of the DP World Tour, USGA and LPGA, and even the late, great Peter Alliss spoken .
We’ve had to take a little break as my family and I are moving and Harry is now a caddy on the LPGA tour, but we have great plans for the next 75 episodes.
Back to trying to play golf. I rejoined Tramore Golf Club and bought a Paramotion golf machine. I knew, of course, that I could drive around and if I wanted to take a picture I would “stand up”. What I didn’t know was that you could do both at the same time!
So imagine a paralyzed person standing up and moving forward, backward and sideways for the first time in five years. I was, for lack of a better word, on my way again. I wanted to show my parents who live about two miles away so my brother Jamie walked as I ‘test drove’ my new vehicle on the main road, the footpaths and sometimes a few hedges, ditches and walls.
I arrived home and showed off my new lightning motor and how to get up and move. I broke down immediately and the tears didn’t stop for a good half hour.
When I got up and “walked around” in Paragolf, I was immediately transported to the dark corridors of Beaumont Hospital. I might have been in my parents’ driveway, but I didn’t see them, I was walking, walking around Beaumont Hospital. It was so incredibly real and alive that I just didn’t want it to end and when it did it brought tears to tears not only for me but for everyone around me.
On May 16th I decided I was “ready” to play, so I called the only person I wanted to share this with, my dad Oliver. Mum Jo, the 2006 Lady Captain, would have been there too, but she has retired from playing. I ripped my drive in the middle of the first one but this was as good as it got! Golf seems to have no empathy.
It is now June 2022 and I am going to Tramore Golf Club to play this time with my brother Oliver. I had a few laps at that point and was making slight progress. I’m a solid handicapper at 36 I guess.
How do I find the Paramotion? It creates a range of emotions. It’s exciting that I can play golf again. It’s embarrassing and humiliating given that it’s a clunky device. It’s noticeable everywhere I go and I’m very aware of it. Of course there is sadness as it represents a different life, one I never imagined, but I’ve adjusted and I suppose I’m used to it now.
People often ask if I’ve accepted it and the answer is no, and I never will. The response is fueled by frustration, but more than that, anger that I shouldn’t be paralyzed. A four-and-a-half-year court battle (which ended at Christmas 2021) is causing frustration.
There were so many ways to prevent my paralysis. It is shocking and quite unbelievable the series of events that took place. But that’s a story for another day.
More importantly, back to golf. I was lucky enough to attend The Masters for the first time in April. I’m completely independent so I traveled solo and met my good friends Joe and Mary Howard in Atlanta a few days later before heading to Augusta.
The Masters is Disneyland for golfers, it’s more than you expect. It was also a first Major for my fellow Déise, Seamus Power.
On July 4th, I set a new personal best of 16-over for 11 holes, bogeying the last three and making a par putt on all three. Haven’t parried a par 4 or 5 yet but it’s getting closer. I had my first par (in almost six years) a month ago on the sixth par 3.
I posted the video on Twitter and it has been viewed over 120,000 times. I had to turn off my phone for notifications two nights in a row. Quite a surreal experience. Needless to say, the goal now is to make a birdie.
You can follow Ian’s progress on Twitter at @ianstjohngolf and Instagram at ianstjohn78 or on the podcast at www.3offtheteepodcast.com.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/golf/tee-to-green/i-just-had-my-first-par-the-goal-now-is-to-make-birdie-41820213.html I just got my first par, the goal now is to make a birdie