TEN years ago, Andy Gardiner was working as a green grocer when he suffered a horrific freak accident that resulted in his leg being amputated. Difficult times then followed as Andy lost his house, car and everything he had worked so hard for. Now, the Fritwell resident has become the first amputee golfer in the world to play professionally among able-bodied players.
Andy’s story is a remarkable one. Two years ago he had never hit a golf ball in his life but, only last week, he made history as he played his first round on the Jamega Pro Golf Tour.
He said: “I shot two 88s so it was terrible. I had 40 plus putts both days – I should have been -3 through three holes on the first day but I missed three short putts and that really knocked my confidence on the greens.
“But no one can ever take away the fact that I’m the first person to play professionally, and if that’s something I can leave for other golfers then it’s all worth it.”
Andy’s extraordinary story began 10 years ago when an accident at work left his leg broken in 13 places.
He says: “After the accident I was looking at the rest of my time in a wheelchair. It was tough. We lost the house, I lost my business and the car. I lost everything. We weren’t rich but we were comfortable.
“After depression and everything else, my wife said you need to get out and do something and that’s when I did shooting.
“I then got fitted for my leg and the same day I showed Pete, my mate, and he asked if I wanted to down to the driving range so I had a go and I just thought that I liked it and that’s when it started.
“We hit 20 balls before we went into the pro shop where they had a set of clubs for £50 so I thought I’d have them and that’s where it all began.”
Initially joining as a member at Banbury Golf Club, it took Andy just six months to shoot his first under-par round and that’s when he looked at going on the European Disabled Golf Tour.
Since then, he has played in countries all around Europe – winning in Holland and the Czech Republic among other places before playing his first ever tee shot as a non-amateur in Finland.
“I gave up my amateur status in Finland so I took my first tee shot as a non-amateur there and I absolutely duffed it. It went about 70 yards – just past the ladies tee!”
Having continued to be successful, Andy took up the challenge of the Jamega Tour – which includes former European Tour golfers – thanks to Ian Reid from SI Developments who helped sponsor him.
Andy added: “One of my partners during the competition was a Swiss pro and I actually beat him in gross so it gave me a reminder that everyone can have bad days and I know where my problem is. My problem is on the greens and my putting.
“I’m misjudging the distance of my longer putts so I’m leaving myself a tricky putt coming back.”
Now his dream has been achieved, Andy is hoping to inspire fellow amputee golfers to follow in his footsteps, adding: “My initial aim was to get to pro but also to try and get another people to do the same.
“It’s been proven now that they’ll accept someone with a disability so if there’s other people out there, like me, then they can go and do what I’ve done.
“It’s also for the youngsters who are told when they’re kids that they can’t turn pro, well they can now because I did it. I suppose this is my legacy, this is what in years to come I contributed and I was the first.
“Regardless of your disability, if you get over it in your head then you can go out and do anything. “That’s why I’m so passionate about it now because what it did for me and how it changed me and the opportunities it gave me. I want to give it back to the people out there now who are feeling like I did.
“Disabled golf is not in Rio but we’re hoping for 2020 and my plan is to take part in it if the leg holds up.
“I’d love to compete but if I’m not at a standard where I can compete, I want to be running a team because we don’t have a Paralympic golf team. I started an association for disabled golfers yesterday and the response from disabled golfers from around Europe has been crazy.”
Looking to the future, Andy is unsure of how far he can go in the game with his next step looking for a coach, adding: “I’ve never had a coach but that’s the plan for the next year because I’ve gone as far as I’m going to go by myself.
“I’ve got France in two weeks, I’m still leading the European Order of Merit ahead of Manuel Dos Santos and unless he wins it and I don’t come in the top three or I come in the top five in France then I’ve won it.”