Three years ago, four-handicap club golfer Mike Gays made a decision that would have eternal consequences: he chose to have his right leg amputated below the knee.
Understandably, it wasn’t a decision that Mike, then 25, took lightly. But after living his entire life with what he described as ‘like having club foot’ – resulting in 25 operations throughout his childhood – the regular bouts of pain just became too much.
“I was talking to my doctors one day and they were like, ‘Well we can do this or this’, and I was like, ‘Why don’t you just amputate it?’” he told bunkered.co.uk.
“You can see how good everything is nowadays with the growth of the Invictus Games and Paralympics. I thought that long-term, if I stick with my leg it's going to eventually affect all of my body.
“I had it off on a Monday in October 2014 and, six days later, I was at the driving range. I was playing golf properly again two months later.”
Throughout school, Mike was never able to play any team sports and missed the whole of Year 7 because of major surgery. It’s clear, then, how golf became such an important part of his life and, if truth be told, the sport was a deciding factor behind his surgery.
“I told doctors before the operation that I'd get it done as long as they could assure me that I could play golf to the same standard again afterwards,” continued Mike, who often struggled to walk the full 18 holes before the operation.
“That was the only thing that was going to stop me getting it done. But I've lost my leg and now I'm a better golfer for it. My handicap is still four – although it did go down to three last year – and I'm determined to get to scratch.”
In truth, becoming an amputee hasn’t had too much of an impact on Mike’s game. He says his short game isn’t affected at all and that the only change is in his golf swing, where his right leg doesn’t pivot and stays planted.
It has, though, opened doors for Mike to play golf at national and international level. He’s an England Amputee Disabled Golf Team Member and is also part of the European Disabled Golf Association – a 12-event tour for disabled golfers across the continent.
But he isn’t planning on stopping there. In March, Mike will fly to Mesquite – an hour from Las Vegas – to tee it up in the Amputee World Long Drive Championship.
He’s already been working with Lee Cox, who coaches legendary Long Drive man Joe Miller, and has already been posting ball and clubhead speeds that Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson & co would take their hats off to.
“Long Drive in able-bodied golf is getting very popular so I thought, why not?” he added. “I went to see Lee and, for my first ten balls, I had a clubhead speed of 106mph.
“After an hour of coaching, it was up at 120mph and I'm getting close to 130mph now. The only thing holding my back is smash factor - hitting the middle of the face. My target ball speed is 180mph and I'm currently around 170mph.”
A podium finish is Mike’s target when he heads Stateside but he has no plans to curtail his ambition of being the best golfer he can be. The next step: representing Great Britain.
“At the moment, I’ve got the opportunity with England to represent my country and win tournaments. After my wife and my pets, golf is the biggest thing in my life and hopefully, at some point in the future, I'll be able to represent Team GB at the Paralympics.”