On February 16 last year Jamie Rutherford decided to go for a jog before dinner after an afternoon of practice. He had only arrived in Portugal that lunchtime and was there for some warm-weather training ahead of a season mixed up of the EuroPro and Challenge Tours.
The 24-year-old was then hit from behind by an out-of-control car which was travelling at 40-50 mph. The car then ended up on top of him. Rutherford had four broken vertebrae, torn ligaments in his knee, dislocated toes, a broken right foot and a variety of cuts and bruises. His first question to the doctor was whether he would be able to play again.
On November 17 he came through six rounds of Q School at PGA Catalunya to secure his European Tour card on the number. This week he gets his 2017 underway at the South African Open.
“The plan at the start of the year was to play the EuroPro and maybe 8-10 starts on the Challenge Tour so I went to Portugal for some warm-weather training,” said Rutherford.
“I arrived the day of the accident on the Tuesday at midday, hit some balls, had something to eat and went for a run early evening around 5pm. I was running along the pavement just next to a brand new road, in between Quinta do Lago North Course and Pinheiros Altos – it might be the best road you will see in Portugal. The car then lost control, spun off road and hit me from behind.
My mate, who was out there with me, was 300 yards behind me. He saw the car pass him as it went round a bend and then he saw me on the ground. I was awake but pinned under the car. A security guard arrived pretty quickly and they didn’t move me until the ambulance came. My back was hurting straightaway.
“I was in hospital for 10 days. I was able to get into a wheelchair after about six days and could use my crutches on day 10 to walk 10 yards so was then deemed fit to fly.
I needed a special flight back, came straight home and my mum and dad set up a bed in my living room for next few weeks.
It was the bottom four vertebrae in my spine, there were slight chips to the side of the vertebrae but nothing out of line. If the spinal chord moves then that is serious and that hadn’t happened.
I also dislocated four toes on my left foot and there were small breaks in my foot – that actually helped heal my back as I wasn’t able to put weight on my foot. By the time I was able to start walking my back was close to being healed. That all took about nine weeks.
Jamie Rutherford interview
“I was lying on my back as long as possible to recover so I watched a lot of TV and films and a lot of friends came round which was great of them.
The night it happened the first question I asked the doctor was about playing golf, there was a language barrier so it wasn’t easy to tell. One said a year, another was hopeful it might be sooner. Then I got home and felt it might be a year off. But I was confident that I would be able to play at some point but it might just take a while.
I then started rehab, I had crutches to get to the gym and did some work on the bike and in the swimming pool. Three weeks later, in the middle of May, I walked a few holes with my dad and chipped a few shots. Then I knew I would be OK to play again at the same standard as before the accident.
By June I was playing casually a couple of days a week and hitting some balls. Then I would build it up slowly though the temptation was play every day.
They then found the ligament damage to my left knee so I had to go back in and get that checked out but that was fine after more time.
Standard wise my game was pretty good which surprised me the most, there were no ill effects on the swing and the same old faults were there!
“My first event back was the EuroPro in the second week in August at the Army GC which wasn’t too far from me. For a couple of weeks I had played four or five times a week so I knew I could play a few days on the trot. I had no expectations, I just wanted to get back out there and compete.
I played in five EuroPro events, made four cuts, had a top 20 in the first one and a top 10 in the last one so I knew I was playing nicely going into the first stage of Q School at Frilford Heath.
“I was just so happy to be playing, most people are desperate to get through the stage, I didn’t think I would even be playing in 2016. I felt confident though, my game felt the same and I played nicely, finishing T5 on five under.
The attitude was to play each qualifier as one tournament that was trying to win, there is a slight element where you might play a percentage shot as winning isn’t everything but I was still approaching each week playing to win as normal. I then tied fourth at Panoramica in early November so the next week I was off to the final of Q School.
“It might be six rounds but it is just the same thing but with a couple of extra days. The first day I doubled the 4th, my 13th, and finished level having got to three under. That was my only double. I thought any bogey could be offset by a good putt on the next hole, anything higher would take a bit more putting right.
“I played at Catalunya in 2015 and missed the cut but that helped me feel comfortable. It is such a quick turnaround from second stage, you finish that on the Monday and then start again on the Saturday. You have got three days to prepare for six rounds over two courses, last year it all happened a bit too fast, this year was different. I would play nine holes each day and rest up in afternoon. I had one of my best friends, Blane Breheny who plays the EuroPro, and he caddied for the second and final stage.
“When the golf was over we could watch the football and TV at the apartment and generally chill out. And my mum and dad came out as well and they were in the apartment.
“I was tied 18th (the top 25 and ties would make it) going into the sixth round. I have always liked knowing where I stand. I wanted to just make a nice start and go forward, I played OK but I wasn’t holing anything and was two over at the turn. Our threeball, Max Orrin (pictured commiserating with Jamie) and Niclas Johansson of Sweden, never got going, we were all on the edge all day.
“The cut line was at the bottom of every leaderboard and I thought I needed to birdie one of the last two holes. I hit my best two shots at 17, I almost pitched a 4-iron in the hole and left a 15-footer an inch short. Then at the last I ended up in the greenside trap back right and thought had to hole the bunker shot. I hit it to six foot so I thought had missed it but I made the par putt. So I walked off feeling gutted at five under.
“But Niclas bogeyed the last and, as we were doing our cards, the top 25 changed to -5 because of Niclas and we both realised at the same time.
Jamie Rutherford interview
“Richard McEvoy was playing the last behind us, had he birdied the 18th we would have been out. I walked down to the green, a few of the other lads were there, he was in the bunker so I walked back up the hill and watched him play the bunker shot. Richard parred so he got his card and it all worked out well.
I said to Niclas that I owed him a drink but I didn’t see him again. It was all a bit crazy afterwards, my phone went crazy and my mum and dad were there so it was amazing.
It was all very emotional, mum and dad have been to loads of events and came out to Spain in 2015. Last year they hadn’t seen me play at all other than one event. It was probably even more emotional for them. I have always been OK, I’ve never had any counselling and am quite laid back anyway so I was fine mentally straightaway. You just get on with it.”