PEASE Bay at Cockburnspath is a well-known surfers’ paradise. The icy cold water of the North Sea there is also good for golfers needing a miracle cure after suffering a nasty injury as they fight for survival on the European Tour.
Less than a fortnight ago, David Drysdale tore his right calf muscle climbing out of a bunker during the third round of the Italian Open at Monza. He needed a wheelchair at two airports on his way home, was still on crutches last Friday and hadn’t hit a golf ball for ten days before Tuesday.
In the circumstances, it was a Lazarus-like recovery as the 40-year-old opened the £3.3 million Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with a four-under-par 68 at St Andrews, handing all the credit for his impressive effort to one of Scotland’s leading physiotherapists, Stuart Barton.
“It’s been incredible as the injury was horrific at the time,” said Drysdale. “I’ve never had special assistance through an airport before, but I got it at Milan and Heathrow in my wheelchair. There was a three-centimetre tear on the calf muscle and a 15-centimetre swelling. When I saw Stuart on the Sunday after getting home from Italy, he said that if I was an athlete – which I’m clearly not – it would be six to eight weeks out.”
Even for golfing purposes, a return as early as this event looked a long shot, but Drysdale won his race against the clock thanks to daily treatment from Barton, who was the Scottish rugby team’s physio for 12 years, attending three World Cups, as well as twice daily dips into the North Sea near his Cockburnspath home.
“How Stuart has treated me has been amazing as I was still on crutches last Friday,” added Drysdale, who three-putted the first on the Old Course before reeling off five birdies as the pro-am event got underway in sun-kissed conditions at all three courses and, according to the forecast, will be blessed with good weather through to the finish on Sunday.
“I’ve been seeing him every day, had acupuncture as well and have also been in the North Sea twice a day at Pease Bay walking about like a right idiot with a jacket, woolly hat and a pair of shorts on. There were kids on surfing courses and they must have thought I was a bit weird walking up and down. But the resistance and cold has done it the world of good.
“I was doing step-ups on to a table about three and a half feet high on Monday night and, having been able to do, Stuart told me I wouldn’t do any more damage to it and just had to trust it. The first few balls I hit on Tuesday were a bit scary but after that things were fine.”
Sitting 121st in the Race to Dubai, Drysdale is ten places and £15,000 short of survival, the one-time perennial Qualifying School parishioner not having been back there since 2008. “The timing was awful,” he said of seeing a welcome upturn in fortunes halted in its tracks.
“I lost my way from March through to end of June. There must have been about a dozen weeks when I basically had no idea. But the last two or three months has been back on the right track. It’s been a fight to get fit for this week and it will be a fight to keep my card. One good week will do it and we’ll see what happens here.”
Stephen Gallacher, the 2004 winner, also made an encouraging start at St Andrews in the company of two footballing legends, Alan Hansen and Andriy Shevchenko. “For the first time ever I spun my approach at the first back into the burn,” reported Gallacher after signing for a 67 to sit in the top ten overall at the end of day one. “But, deciding to use a football analogy, I said to Shevchenko, ‘that’s like losing a goal in the first minute and there are 89 minutes left’.”
Of the six birdies he then carded, the 40-year-old was particularly pleased with the one at the fourth. “Back left, that was an Open flag and the 8-iron I hit to eight foot behind the hole was a beauty,” he said, smiling.