BARGOED golfer Dylan Baines has gone from lying in a hospital bed paralysed from the neck down to winning in Portugal as part of the final event for this year’s European Disability Golf Association (EDGA) schedule.
The 27-year-old broke his neck in a car crash five years ago at the age of 22, which has left much of his left side paralysed.
Eventually enough movement returned for him to hold down a handicap of 17.1 and to compete on the European disability golf circuit, winning the nett score category at the Algarve Open.
“Going there I was just hoping for a top 10 finish, I would have been over the moon with that,” said Baines.
“It was my first event playing in the nett division, I managed a fourth in France and a second in Ireland in stroke play for higher handicaps, my handicap came down and I qualified for the final event in Portugal.
“I had a good first round and then the nerves kicked in in the second round because I was leading. But then I played the back nine in three under my handicap and that was crucial.
“I only found out after the round that I was all square with my French playing partner playing the 18th. I holed a putt for a par and he had a double bogey, so I had an inkling I had won.
“There were other players out on the course, but I knew they needed a really good round to catch me. We celebrated when everyone had come in, but I was pretty tired out.”
The story of how Baines ended up in Portugal is an amazing one.
“I broke my neck in 2017 in a car accident,” he explained. “I was in the back of a van when it crashed.
“No-one else was hurt in the crash, now I am really pleased none of my mates were hurt but at the time you just think ‘Why me?’ “I was paralysed from the neck down for six weeks and then slowly some things came back on my right side.
“The first three weeks were worse for my family than me, I was on painkillers and did not really know.
“Then when I came round it was the worst time of my life. Doctors told me the chances were I would never walk again, I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
“That is not something you want to be told at 22, but I never believed them, I did everything I could, luckily my body agreed with me and I got to where I am now. My right side is pretty much fine, but I cannot feel much on my left side.
“I was in the University Hospital of Wales for six weeks and the Rookwood for two and a half months, having physio every day.
“Though I have recovered quite well, I still have paralysis on the left side, my left hand and left foot are paralysed, my left arm and left leg do not work at all well and my knee gets hyperextended.
“Then I went to the Morrello clinic in Newport where I saw a poster about a leg amputee who was treated there and went on to win the Spanish and Scottish EDGA Opens.
“Someone arranged a meeting between us, he took me to a driving range and gave me some tips. I was just hooked straightaway.
“That was Mike Jones, he took me to my first event, has looked after me this year and even caddied for me in the final round in Portugal.
“He lost his leg in a motorcycle accident, they are different injuries, but we have a lot in common and golf has been a big part of that.
“I do not want to make it sound dramatic, but in many ways golf has saved my life. If I did not have golf, then I do not know what mental state I would be in.
“In the last three years it has been massive for me going out playing with friends and my Dad, just getting away from everything, something to fill the void.
“I have always been into sport and that was something I really missed after my accident. Golf gives me that competition whether it is on my own or playing with mates.
“I played rugby for Penallta and football for Cascade Youth Club, enjoyed going skiing, I had a year of senior football before the accident and I was really looking forward to a second season.”
Baines was a keen golfer before the accident, but since then it has taken centre stage thanks to the unique nature of the sport with adjustments for disability players and the handicap system meaning all standards can compete equally.
“I played golf my whole life but never took it as seriously as I have in the last year, I played more socially before the accident. I hit the ball a lot further and was a better player before, but I am getting there slowly,” he said.
“My aim is to reach a handicap of 10 next summer, then single figures and then eventually my aim is to be able to compete in the gross EDGA events off a scratch handicap.
“I use a training aid on my left hand to strap it to the club and keep it stable. Then I use my right hand and arm to guide the club and create power in my swing.
“I found out recently that I have not been using my good leg in my golf swing, so I have started shifting my weight to the right a bit more, using momentum to go onto my left leg. After hitting the ball I do stumble or fall sometimes.
“My next event is the Scottish Open at the Eden course in St Andrew’s in April, so that gives me time to work towards my goal of having a handicap near to 10 by the end of next year.”