The 33-year old Canadian golf pro Derek Gillespie had just cheated death four months ago in April at the Arizona dessert after a quick getaway to Las Vegas with two friends and a quick trip back to the United States where he had to play golf the next morning.
Gillespie was at the back seat when the driver fell asleep and the car lost control and violently rolled out into the landscape, throwing him out of the vehicle.
“I’m lying in the desert thinking is this a dream?” Gillespie recounted Tuesday as he was about to tee up in the NHL Alumni Pro-Am at the Ambassador Golf Club for the 2011 Canadian Tour championship.
Gillespie said he was happy to be here, but meant not just this week’s tournament, but planet Earth itself.
“Glad to see you upright,” a fellow pro said when he spotted him standing in the shade of the pro shop.
“He could have been killed,” said Windsor-based golf pro Ryan Hughes, who has known Gillespie since he was a child when he used to knock it around Lakeridge Golf Club.
“He wasn’t too far away from death.”
While his two friends suffered minor injuries as they were buckled up in the front seat, Gillespie was laying down at the back with a collapsed lung, a broken femur in his right leg which is very useful for his golf swing and five busted ribs.
“Golf wasn’t even on the radar,” Gillespie said of those first few days in the intensive care unit. “Once I realized where I was, I’m thinking about walking again and getting my life back.”
Gillespie was just lucky that a nurse, who was driving along the deserted highway and upon seeing the car tumbling through the dust, called 911. He came home to Oshawa to recuperate and be with his family the minute his lung healed enough. But soon after he was able to use a cane instead of crutches, he started to hit balls until his doctor said his leg, which now carried a metal rod, had almost healed by July.
“A week after I was taking rips at a driver,” The 11-year veteran Gillespie said, who returned to the tour at the Seaforth Classic last week for the first time since the accident. He has assured a spot at Ambassador by making the cut and tying the 49th.
“I certainly didn’t think I’d be playing in a tournament four months later,” he said.
“The mind still thinks I can play but my body wouldn’t let me,” said Gillespie, who still walks with a slight limp.
But while he was still on the game, he now easily grew tired both mentally and physically.
“Golf is not everything,” he said. “I definitely have a different perspective on life after the accident.”
He turned pro the same year he was inducted into the golf Hall of Fame of Arizona in 2000.
“It’s hard seeing some of my friends on the PGA and here I am still grinding it out not making any money,” said Gillespie, who won the Golf Channel’s Big Break Reality Show in 2009 when it was staged in Prince Edward Island.
“But this has kind of recharged my batteries and I want to do it. There was I chance I could never walk again and here I am complaining about playing bad golf.
“It’s like I had a mental block because I was getting so frustrated but I’ve got a different outlook now.”