‘I had two heart attacks and played European Senior Tour qualifying 14 days later’

Golf News

Nigel Sweet’s determination to play at the highest level is a tale of courage and overcoming the odds. The operations director at Leeds Golf Centre, who have been named England Golf's Club of the Year, tells Steve Carroll how he did it...

When you had the second heart attack during the operation, you were awake…

You have an angiogram, so you have a local anaesthetic.

They go through the main artery in your wrist and they go through a tube and blow your artery up. You see it all on screen. You’re watching it and they are talking you through it.

They got to the main artery that was blocked. There’s a pump that goes in through your vein and it blows it out. It drops the stent in and keeps it open – rather than it closing again.

While that was happening, I got a heart block and I just couldn’t breathe. All the fluid in your body comes out and I went. I thought that was it.

The next thing I’m awake again with a drip on and everything else and a doctor saying ‘this is what’s happened but you are going to be all right now. You were in the right place at the right time’. That was on January 2.

Leeds Golf Centre Nigel Sweet

How did you even think about going and playing?

I just thought I’d give it a go. At the time over here, the weather was horrendous so Portugal was great. It was 18 to 20 degrees and Vitamin D is the best thing for you.

Did you really go thinking you were going to tee it up, or was it ‘let’s see how it goes’?

I’d gone with the mindset I was playing. I think everyone else thought I’d go and take it easy and not do it. My wife wasn’t very happy.

My surgeon said he didn’t want me playing golf. At the pro-am I was meant to play in, there was an evening meal. I’d walked round, but was mostly on a buggy.

I’d walk three holes and then buggy for three holes and then walk again.

At the evening dinner, I sat next to a heart surgeon. We got talking and he said ‘why are you even here?’ He said he wouldn’t really recommend it but if it helped me progress quicker, when you feel okay with it, who’s to argue?

It would have been easy for you to wallow in misfortune – particularly after all that training…

I think it scared me that much, I was thinking ‘I’m alive. I’m going to do it’. How long are you alive for? It was that sort of attitude.

I’ve come back and I’ve just got to get fitter.

That 73 in pre-qualifying, so quickly after the operation, must be one of your best achievements in golf?

I didn’t realise it at the time. I came off disappointed. I’d had five birdies and six bogeys.

I tend to be ultra cool on myself for scores. On the first round of final qualifying, I shot 73.

I had five birdies and an eagle and I came off with 73. I was like ‘how have I done that? It could have been 65’.

Leeds Golf Centre Nigel Sweet

When you got on the course, was it just golf? Was there any apprehension?

There was a little bit, because I’d asked the question whether a stent could move. They said they’d never known one to.

That was my ultimate thing – if I tried something too early was it going to come out. They said no. I went on the practice ground the day before and hit 20 balls.

That was it. I’ve never been a massive practiser. I’ve always been a bit quirky with golf but I played for Yorkshire and England Over 35s.

I’ve always wanted to turn pro but never had the opportunity.

How do you feel now?

I am getting stronger every day. It’s just that my fitness levels have been hit quite hard. After six hours of work, you can tell you’ve hit a point.

What was it like when you were out playing? Did you get more and more tired?

In the first round, it was five hours 40. In rain. So, after two-and-a-half hours, it was a struggle. Fortunately for me, I had someone on my bag and all I had to do walk, stand there and swing a golf club.

My mindset had changed because I was thinking ‘I might not even be here, so I am just going to enjoy it’.

I think I enjoyed it to the point where, even with the 75, I still was out there realising that I might not have been there at all.

Has what’s happened to you changed your outlook for the rest of your life?

I’ve always been quite relaxed about things. I don’t stress too much. I think the fact I did it surprised a lot of people but I just needed to do it for me.

It was quite selfish really. It got me back quicker, I think. If I’d stayed at home, would I have come to work after four or five weeks?

I forced myself to go and play golf thinking ‘If I can play golf, surely I can go back to work.’

Sweet success for Nigel and Leeds Golf Centre

Leeds Golf Centre Nigel Sweet

Nigel Sweet’s recovery has been boosted after Leeds Golf Centre were named Club of the Year at the England Golf Awards.

They were hailed by judges at the black tie event, at London’s Royal Lancaster hotel, for their open door policy and efforts to get more people playing the sport.

“Leeds Golf Centre demonstrate an enthusiasm for developing golf across all ages and abilities and successfully cater for what their customers want,” the audience were told.

“This is a continually improving club with some great initiatives to get more people playing golf, resulting in a big increase in membership.”

The venue is set to embark on a £9 million redevelopment project, which will see a new clubhouse, two-tier driving range, gym, spa and a new 9-hole academy course.

It’s a far cry from seven years ago, when Sweet says the club was regarded as a “field with sticks in it and £10 golf”.

“We’ve got away from that and we are trying to change the name of Leeds Golf Centre,” he said. “I think we are getting a good reputation and a lot of visitors are coming through the doors. With the changes, it is going to be massive for the whole business.”

More from NCG...

Awards pictures courtesy of England Golf

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