JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA I It’s strange the things you remember. I can remember watching Marc Cayeux shoot 61 in the final round of the 2005 Vodacom Tour Championship at Country Club Johannesburg to win by six shots.
He won it with a back nine of 29, including an eagle at the last. He dropped only three shots in 72 holes. He was a giant of the fairways that week.
During the Joburg Open last week, he spoke to me from a wheelchair. And for Cayeux, he remembers the words, “I can get through this.”
“I’ve been through the worst pain of my life in the last three months,” he said, referring to the car accident in Zimbabwe late last year when a police truck hit a cow and then swerved into the other lane, hitting Cayeux’s car head-on. The policeman driving the truck died, while Cayeux suffered horrific injuries that have required a series of operations, time in ICU and have now put his golf career in doubt.
“The car landed on its roof and I remember undoing the seatbelt. My friend was in a car in front of me. He came running to my car and was calling my name. That woke me up a bit. They couldn’t get the door open, and I heard him shout that the car was on fire. That’s when I clearly remember saying to myself, ‘I’m not going to die like this.’ From that moment until now, it has been a case of, ‘I can get through this.’ ”
Cayeux was at the Joburg Open making his first appearance at a tournament following three months in hospital. His desire was just to be near a golf course again.
“It’s good to be in this environment again,” he said. “But it’s tough seeing all my fellow professionals from a wheelchair. It makes you realise it’s good to be alive. Life is short. I miss competing, but it will drive me to get to where I need to be to get back into the game.”
When that will be Cayeux doesn’t know.
“I recently had an operation to close up my hip. I’m also having two screws removed from my ankle. Then hopefully the next operation will be to remove other screws and pins in my legs a year from now. But it all depends on my rehab. I want to walk without pain. I don’t want to live on painkillers. And golf will come after that.”
With nine victories on the Sunshine Tour and three on the European Challenge Tour, as well as a few seasons on the European Tour, Cayeux’s talent has never been in doubt.
“He’s a wonderful player with a hell of a lot of talent,” says countryman Tony Johnstone, who along with Mark McNulty visited Cayeux in hospital. Nick Price phoned Cayeux, while Adam Scott sent him an e-mail wishing him well.
“He’s a popular boy on Tour. He has a good mind and a strong will. I think he will be okay. It’s such a pity because we all had a sense that he was due to break through with a win on the European Tour soon. And then he had this horrific accident,” says Johnstone.
Cayeux certainly has a different take on things. With that victory in the Vodacom Tour Championship, he qualified to play in the WGC-NEC Invitational. He was paired with Tiger Woods in the first round, and he made headlines by playing despite burning his hand during a barbecue.
Even Woods was impressed.
“Incredible, absolutely incredible,” Woods said at the time. “The fact he even went out there and played and grinded it out like he did was absolutely fantastic. He had a hard time hanging onto the club, and obviously the pain, but he gutted it out and it was cool to watch. To do what he did was impressive. You look at that hand, it’s not pretty.
“Obviously he’s in a lot of pain and he dealt with it fine, and he just grinded his way around the golf course and did what he could. You could see he was fighting all day, every time he made impact it was going to hurt.”
Although living in a country that has been driven into the ground by its president, Robert Mugabe, a country where Cayeux supports his parents with the money he earned on Tour, and where basic things such as fuel for your car have become a luxury, Cayeux is the first to admit that he, like so many of us, took most things for granted.
His fellow professionals probably do so as well, often forgetting the privilege of competing outdoors on magnificent golf courses.
But he will never take anything for granted again.
“After weeks in ICU and then the normal ward, they finally wheeled me outside on my bed. I can’t tell you how beautiful it was to see blue sky and lie in the shade of a tree again,” he said.
Then he smiled. The same smile I remember seeing when I first bumped into Marc and his brother Glenn in a hotel lift years ago when they used to play the Sunshine Tour together.
It’s strange the things you remember.