When England batsman James Taylor was forced to retire with a heart condition, he needed a new competitive spark. Steve Carroll tells his remarkable story

He was finally at the top of his sport – the years of hard work firmly embedding his position in England’s middle-order. James Taylor had played all four tests in a historic England cricket series victory in South Africa. At 26, it seemed he would be a mainstay of the side for years to come.

But in just one day in Cambridge in 2016 when playing for his county side Nottinghamshire, it all came to an end. His career was over. Just like that.

“A cardiac arrest is the only way to describe it to most people,” he explains. It was officially arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, a largely inherited heart disease that’s often fatal and can be exacerbated by strenuous exercise.

“I had this attack going on for seven hours,” Taylor continues. “I was taken to hospital eventually, after my body started packing up. Initially, we thought it was just a virus.

“When I went to hospital, my heart rate was 265 beats-per-minute and had been like that for seven hours.

“My body had done the equivalent of five to six marathons on the bounce, so to say it was pretty stressful is an understatement.”

Taylor couldn’t walk for a week and didn’t leave hospital for three. But that wasn’t even the worst of it. The effects of his condition were to last a lifetime.

“I was told I had to retire,” he remembers. “I couldn’t exercise again properly, I couldn’t drink alcohol, I couldn’t do this, I couldn’t do that. But the doctor told me, ‘Oh, but you can play golf.’

“Cricketers either love golf or hate golf because we stand in a field for seven hours a day. I was one of those that didn’t want to stand in the field any longer and so I didn’t play golf when I played cricket.

“I was like, ‘My dad plays golf. I’m not sure about this.’ But my wife said, ‘Come on, you can get into it.'”

After 139 first-class appearances and more than 9,000 runs, including 20 centuries, Taylor was starting again. But he found he was immediately hooked.

“From that moment when I went on that artificial turf and started hitting some balls, it changed my life,” he says.

“Initially, I thought, ‘How easy is this? I’m going to be a pro in no time!’ Then I went from the artificial turf to the course and I was so embarrassed.

“I refused to play with anybody for the first three months. I was dreading it. I was hitting the ground first. I was hitting it left, I was hitting it right.

“But the more I got into it, and my competitive side took over and I had lessons, the more I loved it and embraced the challenges.”

Seeking that new competitive edge, despite the physical limitations that prevented him from doing anything pretty much anything else athletically, Taylor found a release he assumed he’d never be able to replace when his cricketing career was so cruelly taken away.

Golf changed his life.

“When you are at the peak of your powers, and you’re so physically fit and dominant in your world, it’s a huge ego blow when you’re not invincible anymore.

“I had no release. I couldn’t exercise, which was a release, I couldn’t go out with my friends and drink and party like I used to, which was another release.

“Golf gave me a release. It gave me something to be able to be competitive in.

“I used to love the gym. I used to love running, but golf allows me to walk at a low intensity level so my heart rate doesn’t raise too much – apart from over a three footer in your weekly medal. That’s when my heart rate does raise a little bit!

“It’s that mental headspace, cruising around the golf course in the fresh air with your mates. You can do it competitively. You can do it with your family, and you can do it with your friends.

“There are so many different ways that you can engage in golf and you can challenge yourself and that’s what I needed.

“I needed a physical challenge, and a technical challenge, and a mental challenge. And that’s why golf is so good. It’s very similar to cricket and it’s been an absolute godsend for me.”

Turns out Taylor has become pretty good at it too. Having got through the initial struggles we all face when going out onto the course for the first time, he quickly set himself a target: get to scratch in four and a half years.

He achieved it and then pushed on again. The man who competed in seven Tests and 27 One Day Internationals now plays off +3, alongside a full-time job as an England selector.

You’ll often see him at pro-am events, most recently at Centurion during the Aramco Ladies Team Series.

Golf has given him the spark he needed to move on from such a traumatic episode. He doesn’t know what life would be like without it.

“Every morning when I was playing professional sport, I got excited when I got out of bed. It never took me any time to get out of bed.

“Golf gives me that excitement. It’s the happiest I am, obviously along with seeing my child and my wife!

“Golf is a complete game changer. It gets me excited for the day and it’s probably the most excited I get, on a daily basis, when I’m playing golf. It has changed my life.”

Listen to James Taylor tell his story on the From the Clubhouse podcast

James Taylor was speaking on the From the Clubhouse podcast.

James also appears on the R&A documentary Iona Investigates, presented by Sky TV’s Iona Stephen.

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