“Why are you even here?”
The heart surgeon’s open-mouthed gasp at Nigel Sweet at the Portugal pro-am wasn’t the first time he’d heard those words.
“I fell ill in the office and woke up with staff around me,” the Leeds Golf Centre operations manager said of the moment he had a heart attack while at work late last year.
He’d had little warning it was coming – suffering nothing but a “little bit of indigestion” – but worse was to come for the former Yorkshire county player.
Five days after the first attack, and while having a stent fitted to open his blocked artery, he was struck by another.
Two hearts attacks, in less than a week, would be enough to keep any of us off work – and certainly far away from a golf course – for a couple of months.
Sweet, though, isn’t like you or me. Just days after nearly dying on the operating table, he boarded a plane to Portugal for European Senior Tour qualifying.
And two weeks after that serious brush with mortality, he took part in pre-qualifying and a shot a one-over-par 73.
He somehow worked his way round again in 77 to book his place in final qualifying and, ignoring the tiredness that gripped him ever more each day, followed up with rounds of 73, 75 and 74.
He missed playing the last day by just a single shot. NCG caught up with Sweet to ask him how on earth he managed it…
How long was pre-qualifying after your heart attacks?
It was 14 days. I played at Monte Rei, two rounds on a buggy before Tour school so it was less than two weeks to when I was playing again.
It must have been a really scary time…
It was obviously frightening. I was quite fit, not overweight, and had lost a lot of weight and was training quite hard to go to Tour school.
I’d been twice, my passion is golf and I’d love to be able to play golf on Tour.
It was a shock to the system and the consultant said he didn’t want me playing for four to six weeks but I felt fit enough and thought I’d give it a go. You’re a long time dead, as they say.
Did you have any warning?
I felt as though I had a bit of indigestion. I went in the office and that’s the last thing I knew. I collapsed and Ellie [Robinson] and Matt [Pearson] found me on the floor in the office.
It was December 28. I was lucky. Obviously, it can happen again when you are on the table – you get a heart block while they are doing it.
They were fantastic at Leeds General Infirmary. But it’s a mindset with me. I don’t like to be beaten by anything.
I’m so competitive and I thought ‘I’m just going to go and get some sunshine on my back and see how I feel’.
When you hear about people who have had heart attacks, it flattens them for quite a while
The operation was about an hour. They go in through your main artery.
I’ve got heart damage so I’m going to be rattling for a year. I’m on 14 tablets a day.
There’s obviously damage there and I didn’t realise how hard it had hit me. You think ‘well, I’m all right again now’ but, after about two-and-a-half hours of being out there, you hit a wall.
They say that when you are running a marathon.
Interview continues over the page, where Sweet takes us through how he managed to get on the golf course so soon after leaving hospital…