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The true power of golf





For the third year in a row, I have been very lucky to be handed one of the bigger privileges within the realm of golf media: covering the Simpson Cup. Well worth a Google, if you have the time.

John Simpson may not necessarily be a household name to the wider South African public, but it is one that will be familiar to many involved with South African golf. As the former Vice President of International Management Group, he managed the likes of Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Lord Sebastian Coe.

He also managed Dale Hayes - and did so at the height of Hayes' playing career. The two remain best friends today, and, having enjoyed a braai in both men's company recently, there were very few minutes which ticked by without roars of laughter. Details of the endless stories will remain confidential, but, suffice to say, it was a different time back then.

For Simpson, it was an incredibly successful time too, but I'd be surprised if there are many ventures he is prouder of than the Simpson Cup - an event inaugurated in 2012 to raise funds for his charity, the On Course Foundation (which he founded in 2010).

The latter came about when he did a speech at a rehabilitation centre in Surrey for personnel from the British Armed Forces who were permanently injured in battle. Seeing the hopeless futures that lay ahead of these men and women who were crippled, amputated, shot, sick or plagued by the silent killer that is PTSD, he felt compelled to do something more.

He thus founded the charity shortly after, with the aim of bringing these stricken folks together through the great healer that is golf. Few of these veterans (who are now members) had even played the game before, but through golf days, clinics, and, most importantly, training and work experience placements so that they can find employment in the golf industry, their lives are increasingly being given purpose and direction.

The charity has bases in both the UK and the US, which is precisely how the Simpson Cup came into being. Since the inaugural event at TPC Sawgrass in 2012, a team of 12 from each nation has squared up against each other annually for this Ryder Cup-style event. This year it is Royal Birkdale which plays host, and, with the British holding a 3-2 edge over their counterparts historically - albeit with the Americans having given them a decent beating at Oak Hill last year.

Having grown up in South Africa shortly after the 'Army era', my knowledge - and even appreciation - of the military was on a par with that of atom splitting. But some of the stories these guys share are as captivating as they are heart-breaking. The scars of war they bear are ones 99 percent of us will never truly be able to fathom, but, whatever your opinions on war (and the politics thereof), you can't help but be in awe of the sacrifice these guys have made when in their presence.

And they sure know how to play golf too. I had the honour of playing with Team GB's Mike Browne - an above-the-knee amputee - two years ago, just 12 months after he had first played the game. He shot a 74 at Royal St George's that day; my most enduring memory being him on a side slope, bravely knocking it to within 12 feet of the flag with a 6-iron, before tumbling over as the momentum proved too much for his prosthetic leg to handle. He then duly made the putt.

Today he is a professional golfer - one who missed out on qualifying for the Open Championship in July by just one stroke. Leading the American charge will be Chad Pfeifer, also an above-the-knee amputee, and also a professional golfer. Slightly further down the handicap spectrum will be Team GB's Ian Bishop, who has had both legs amputated, and plays off an 8. Last year I watched Paul Swain, Team GB's captain, hit the ball metronomically (and far!) at the range, even though he has just one arm.

Just as inspiring are the men who have PTSD - a complicated and poorly-understood illness, which ruins lives every bit as much as these physical disabilities. The confidence these guys gain, particularly by the end of the week, is truly uplifting, and it all fuels camaraderie like I've never seen at a sporting event before.

But, despite the deep-seated respect and banter these opponents share, the competition is fierce. With around a thousand members of the charity combined on either side of the Atlantic, qualifying for this event is a heck of an achievement, and these guys are determined to make it count when they step up onto the grand stage. The prestige of it all was best underlined last year, with the likes of ESPN, PGA Tour, Golf Channel and Sky Sports all showing highlights of the event to varying extents. This year, the coverage net will be cast even wider as the Simpson Cup grows and grows. As will the pressure.

Yet, whoever wins or loses, the overriding takeaway from the week is the far-reaching power of the sport of golf. There isn't another code where people like this can compete on a level playing field (by virtue of the handicap system), and, more than that, none (in my opinion) which so facilitates the very best in humankind.

What a cause this is, and what a humbling reminder of the effect the game we love can have on people's lives. It's an experience I, and everyone involved, will very much cherish.


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