Jonathan Thomson: “I remember asking, ‘Am I going to die?’”

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Only twice has Jonathan Thomson seen his father, Nigel, reduced to tears.

The most recent time? When he watched his son achieve his lifelong dream at the age of just 21 by earning his European Tour card at Q-School in November.

But the first time holds even more resonance for Jigger - as he affectionately known - despite it being almost ten years ago. It was the moment that, after having witnessed him endure five years of gruelling chemotherapy, he read out a letter which said the lymphoblastic leukaemia he had been suffering from was finally in remission.

Both were momentous, life-changing days for Thomson and, as he prepares to embark on his first prolonged stint jet-setting on the European Tour, he relived his journey to date with bunkered.co.uk, beginning with the moment that, at the age of just seven, he was made aware of his diagnosis.

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“For about 12 months beforehand, I was very ill and sick and then I started to lose weight rapidly,” he explained. “I’d have blood tests and the doctors thought I was just anaemic – but eventually I got referred.

“I was diagnosed on the Tuesday and I remember the moment as clear as day. I was in this room by myself and I felt like I was in there forever. My parents were with the consultant at the time and I remember them coming back in and telling me.

The first thing I asked was, ‘Am I going to die?’. They said, ‘No, we can get through it, it’s curable’, and that was it. By the Friday, I had started chemotherapy.”

For the next five years, Thomson spent most of his days at Sheffield Children's Hospital. Most of the time, he’d be in and out on the same day, although there was the occasional overnight or two-night stay. However, there was one occasion when there were real question marks as to whether he would be able to pull through.

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“Probably the worst it got, where I was close to not making it, was when the chemo was blasting me that hard it ulcerated my gut lining, oesophagus, throat, mouth, everything,” he continued. “I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t eat or drink. But, after three weeks, I managed to get through it.”

Thomson continued to battle up until the day he returned home from a shopping trip with his mum, Sarah, and his dad read out that message. After five years, the cancer was in remission.

Now, he was able to devote all of his time and energy to golf – a sport he’d already shown promise in at his home club of Rotherham. His dad worked at the club and it was there that Thomson started to spend endless hours practising – sometimes skipping school – and also taking inspiration from a certain Danny Willett who, at around that time, was the world No.1 amateur.

“School was really tough,” he continued. “I basically missed five years of it and, when I went into comprehensive school, I was so far behind I just hated it with a passion. That’s one of the reasons why I focused so much on my golf.

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“Thankfully, I got pretty good and I was in the Yorkshire U16 squad from the age of 14. When I was 16, I won the North of England U16 Amateur Championship on 13-under-par gross from the back tees. That’s when I knew I had half a chance of doing something in the game.”

Selection in England squads followed until, in September 2016, Thomson made the decision to turn professional after becoming ‘fed up’ with the amateur game.

His management company – Firestart Sports – got him four starts on the EuroPro Tour and, after missed cuts in the first and second events, he won the third event – the Glenfarclas Open at Mar Hall (above) – to pocket £10,000.

It was a landmark win for Thomson just four weeks after entering the paid ranks and one that he feels fate played a part in after his girlfriend, Olivia, covered the entry fee of £300 from her summer job earnings.

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“I was absolutely skint,” he continued. “I wouldn’t have been able to tee it up otherwise but she was working at the time and offered to pay for it. Then we won. It was amazing. Everything happens for a reason and it was a huge moment so early in my pro career. It kick-started everything.”

After a season on the EuroPro Tour, where he narrowly missed out on securing a Challenge Tour card, Thomson then headed for Q-School, where he progressed on the mark in the First Stage, via a play-off in the Second Stage and thanks to a birdie-birdie finish in the Final Stage, setting up that emotional embrace with his dad (below).

“Whether I make it in golf or I don’t, I’ll never, ever, forget that moment,” he added.

Now on golf’s top tier, Thomson has seen his European Tour playing opportunities limited to just two events so far but is about to embark on a four-week run of events starting at the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth. His aim for the season? It’s pretty simple.

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“Ultimately, it’ll be an achievement in itself just to keep my card for next year,” he admitted. “But I’m champing at the bit to get a run of events together and start the travelling process. I’m just going to enjoy every moment and see what happens at the end of it.”

It’s clear Thomson’s battle with leukaemia has given him a different perspective to many of his fellow pros, who perhaps see making a career in the game as the be-all and end-all. So, on World Cancer Day, what advice does he have for those who are maybe suffering from the disease or have a friend a loved one in that situation?

“Never give in. Never, ever give in. Be as stubborn as possible. That’s the only way you can get through anything. It’s very difficult at times but I can’t say it enough. Just never give in.”

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