We're thoroughly enjoying our new Golfer of the Month feature as it allows us to highlight golfers whose love of the game shines through, often in the face of adversity. The winner's story for May brings all that and so much more.
We recently had the pleasure of a round at Royal Cromer Golf Club in Norfolk with Brad Smith, a 27-year-old amputee golfer, and his brother Mitch, an assistant PGA Professional. Brad is a competitor on the European Disabled Golfers Association Tour, and his story is truly inspirational.
May Golfer of the Month | Brad Smith
From a young age, Brad was golf mad and had a blossoming talent to match. By the time he reached his late teens, he was enrolled in golf college with his brother Mitch, and his handicap was tumbling. In just two years, he had dropped 7 points from 9 to 2 handicap.
In 2017, he was working in the golf shop under the Professional at Thetford Golf Club before entering the PGA program. He played every chance available and crammed practice in where he could while both he and his partner were getting ready to welcome their second child later the same year. Mitch had moved to the US to ply his trade in the NCAA system.
Around that time, Brad began to experience pain and swelling in his right knee. Initially, it was of no major concern and was put down to a golf injury, but gradually the swelling grew to a point where it became difficult to get the leg of his trousers up over the knee, so he sought medical advice.
After an initial 'painkillers and rest' diagnosis, he was later delivered the news that would turn his world upside down. The swelling was due to a particularly aggressive form of bone cancer.
After digesting the news and coping with the initial shock, it was decided that an above-the-knee amputation - though not a decision to be taken lightly - would offer the best chance to put the cancer behind him. Less than one month after the diagnosis, Brad had his leg amputated successfully.
It wasn't long before his thoughts turned back to golf. Amazingly, just two weeks after the operation, he was back chipping golf balls in the back garden while hopping to maintain balance on just one leg.
Brad's diagnosis brought him and his brother closer together. Mitch was also a low single figure handicapper and was aiming to become an Assistant Pro at Royal Cromer. Often the two would head to club's short play area, with Mitch helping his brother up the steps to work on his short game - inadvertently blading a chip shot straight into his face on the first occasion! Nothing like a warm welcome back.
While continuing to adjust to life as an amputee and starting a 7-month course of chemotherapy, Brad discovered the European Disabled Golfers Association and its supportive community of passionate, like-minded golfers. He could now see a way of continuing on his golfing journey and bringing competitive golf back to his life.
His first few rounds post-op were played without any prosthetic whatsoever. Though he was hopping around the golf course on one leg, he remarkably never shot over 100, a testament to his ability.
When he was first given a mechanical 'free' knee prosthesis, Brad adapted to both life and golf as best he could. In November 2017, however, his second child Jake was born, which led to the need for extra mobility.
To help in that respect, he had an advanced prosthetic called the C-Leg fitted. It is a microprocessor knee (MPK) joint designed to help above-knee amputees walk with greater stability.
This was to be done using an invasive surgery called Osseointegration - a procedure where an artificial implant is permanently anchored and integrated into bone - and was scheduled to be carried out in September 2019. First, a full replacement of his left hip was carried out due to the damage caused by the intense chemo sessions. Still, Brad stayed the course to return to golf.
After the procedure, Brad's quality of life changed immeasurably. As far as golf goes, quite simply, if he had a regular prosthetic right now, he wouldn't be golfing. In his first-round back, he managed a 78, and now he now plays 3 times a week and, where physically possible, squeezes in an extra day of practice.
During a round, he may have difficulty from time to time with slipping on slopes, but other than that he focuses on rhythm and balance and that helps him play his best golf. We asked Brad whether he thought he has become a better ball striker after surgery then before, and he was certain he had, focusing on tempo and balance had produced a more predictable shot, and more consistent scoring. A lesson for us all!
He has managed to recover to a handicap of 0.3 (over a stroke and a half better than pre-amputation) and now regularly plays on the EDGA Tour. In seven events since his amputation, he has finished runner-up twice and fifth on three occasions. That level of consistency has seen him shoot up the rankings, where he currently sits 17th in the world. In addition, he recently won an able bodied board competition at his club, so his name will never be forgotten within the History Room at the prestigious course.
17th in the world is impressive, but he harbours ambitions of becoming world number one. Watching him up close at Royal Cromer, those ambitions look more than realistic to us. Brad has got serious game.
As well as being long off the tee (around 260 yards when he catches it right), he puts our ball-striking to shame and has great imagination around the greens. It seems only a matter of time before that first EDGA win arrives.
As we discovered more about Brad's story, it was astonishing that he managed to retain a positive outlook and refused to allow his new normal to define his future in golf.
We're sure you'll agree that he is a truly deserving winner of the Hole19 Golfer of the Month for May.
We want to thank Brad and Mitch for accepting our invitation for Golfer of the Month and hosting us at Royal Cromer. It really was an experience we will never forget. They are both valued members of the community and, more importantly, great guys to be around. So much so, the club rallied around Brad and hosted a fund raising day so he could upgrade his car to suit his needs. It really was an experience we will never forget. Best of luck in the future, Brad and Mitch!