Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Edward Urquhart, who packs a drive of almost 350 yards, is one of many disabled golfers who have fallen in love with the sport
By Tim Baines
Four years ago, Edward Urquhart hit a cement wall doing 180 km/h on a motorcycle, losing one leg below his knee instantly and the other a few days later.
During a 2014 camping trip, Tanelle Bolt jumped off a bridge into water 60 feet below, fracturing her T6 vertebrae on impact. She’s paralyzed from the chest down.
Scott Atkinson had deployments to Bosnia and Afghanistan (twice) that left him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Later, booze and prescription painkillers would knock his life for a loop.
Each of the three have felt pain, physically and mentally. Their road to recovery has been littered with setbacks. But, through the hurt, the game of golf became part of the healing: It has brought them joy. On the golf course, the shadows within the darkness are swallowed up by glistening green grass, Cerulean blue skies and brilliant sunshine.
The game of golf became part of the healing
With inspiration from Todd Keirstead, who has become a North American leader in inclusion and diversity through golf, Urquhart, Bolt and Atkinson are breaking down barriers, showing others that, “Yes, you can. Just figure out how.”
Edward Urquhart was doing one last run on his 2012 Kawasaki 600 Ninja SuperSport around a closed-circuit track at Toronto Motorsports Park in Cayuga, Ont., south of Hamilton. The date was July 15, 2016.
The wind began to pick up and the air had cooled when Urquhart was suddenly slingshotted across the track. He smashed into a concrete barrier, then catapulted into a huge brush pile. As he looked down and saw his right leg severed and his left leg dangling beside his left shoulder, he didn’t panic.
“Very quickly, dying was out of my head,” Urquhart says. “I had about 10 seconds to decide if I still wanted to be here. All I would have had to do was close my eyes and I would have been gone. You take a deep breath and say, ‘OK, I’m doing this.'”
It took three days to wash the pine needles and dirt from his wounds. His left leg was amputated below the knee. By the time Urquhart woke up, he had been in an induced coma for five days and had lost 50 pounds of blood and tissue.
“I knew I was missing a leg and I knew the other one was in bad shape, so I wasn’t shocked when I woke up, I was just happy I’d made it,” says Urquhart, whose right arm was also mangled. “My mom will tell you I have nine lives. She used to call me Daredevil. I’ve been scaring my parents (Cardo and Charmyne) forever.”
Four months after the accident, with prosthetic legs, he went home to Courtice, 60 kilometres east of Toronto. The following spring, he got his automobile licence back, then headed to Harmony Creek Golf Centre, a short executive course, and checked another thing off his list: He found out he could still swing a golf club.
Becoming more serious about golf had its challenges, though.
“When people talk about a poor golf swing — ‘Oh, you lifted your head’ or something like that — they forget about important factors like ankle flexion. That’s your stability right there,” says Urquhart, who calls himself a bogey golfer, with a best round of 82 using just irons.
“As soon as you’re off-balance — that’s usually your ankles — you usually have a terrible golf swing, you come in too steep and you top it or all kinds of bad things. Ankle mobility and body awareness are really big parts of a golf swing. Not having ankles and not having that connection with the ground because you can’t feel the ground beneath your feet, that definitely alters your golf swing. I train a lot with a mirror or with a friend watching. That’s where I get feedback.”
A recreational golfer before his accident, Urquhart qualified for the world long-drive championships in Myrtle Beach in 2019. He placed second in the adaptive division, smacking a ball 294 yards. His personal best is a whopping 347 yards in Las Vegas.
Asked about the differences between playing golf before and after the accident, he says: “I enjoyed walking a course, but I’ve yet to do that (with prosthetics). The endurance part of it is challenging, but that’s still a goal of mine. Course management has become a big part of my game. People focus on hitting the fairway, then the green. When I play, I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, it’d be nice to hit it 300 yards, but that wouldn’t give me a good lie.’ I might hit it 240 because that gives me a flat lie. That gives me a better chance of attacking the green than if I hit it further and the ball is below my feet. I’m really excited (about where his golf game is heading). I can see I’m getting better.”
An excellent athlete before the accident (provincial soccer player, high school football player and CrossFitter), Urquhart keeps pushing the limits. In 2018, he went to the Paralympics Sports Combine and discovered powerlifting — he’s the Canadian record holder for competition para bench press at 313.5 pounds — and sprint kayaking, in which he has trained with Team Ontario and has medals from national team trials.
"It's like they've seen a ghost. This guy just kicked my butt and he doesn't have any legs!'
“Golf, powerlifting and kayaking give me a sense of normal,” he says. “When I’m on the water in my kayak, there’s no disability. You’re paddling at the same speed as everyone else. In golf, I beat able-bodied guys all the time. If I’m having a good day, they may not even know I have a disability. They might see me changing my shoes in the parking lot and it’s like they’ve seen a ghost, ‘This guy just kicked my butt and he doesn’t have any legs.’
“I think of how grateful I am just to be alive. That trumps any bad thoughts. I have my wife (Andrea), we have two beautiful kids (Joshua and Eric). I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I’m always looking toward the future. It’s not about looking back at the past.”