Sam Purdon is in a fight to make the Can­ter­bury team for next month’s men’s in­ter­provin­cials, but with what he’s al­ready taken on, that bat­tle is small-fry.

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Cantabrian Sam Purdon tells how his fight with brain can­cer has made him a bet­ter golfer.

Only last year, Purdon lay in his bed won­der­ing when he was go­ing to die. He had had a tu­mour re­moved from in­side his head and was full of drugs fight­ing his brain can­cer. He stops short of say­ing he's beaten can­cer, but he's win­ning at this stage and it's made him a bet­ter golfer.

Sam Purdon is 27 and on the sur­face, the same as most other 27-year-old blokes who play golf.

He wants to buy a house, wants to have a fam­ily and is un­sure if try­ing to go pro is what he wants to do with his golf be­cause maybe he just wants to en­joy be­ing a top am­a­teur and keep it fun.

To see his no-non­sense, work­man­like game, you'd not think he stands out too much from any of the other mem­bers of the 12-man Can­ter­bury squad.

His short­game is handy, his scram­bling first-rate, he's a de­cent length off the tee, strikes the ball well and in a re­cent round with your cor­re­spon­dent, ca­su­ally shot a 5-un­der par 68 at Can­ter­bury coun­try course Wee­dons in one of the most re­laxed rounds played.

When he takes his cap off to shake hands, the long-time High­landers fan of­fers a quick re­minder of what he's been through.

Tar­geted ra­di­a­tion on the side of his head has left a patch of hair a bit lighter. Un­der that is a scar when sur­geons re­moved a tu­mour and saved his life.

Since then, golf - as fun as it is - has been a healthy dis­trac­tion, not the be all and end all.

In late 2015, Purdon was play­ing in­door cricket with some mates. He felt a bit dizzy, went out­side to get some air and pro­ceeded to have a scary seizure.

He had a num­ber of tests and was ini­tially di­ag­nosed with epilepsy.

“It wasn't un­til the start of 2016, when I had a full MRI and they found a tu­mour.”

At first it wasn't thought to be too bad - as far as these things go - be­fore a biopsy re­vealed he was al­ready a few rounds into a fight for his life.

He had chemo and ra­di­a­tion then had a cou­ple of months off the treat­ment, rest­ing his body for an­other few rounds.

Golf had been the last thing on his mind, but he was dragged out to play with some mates, then en­tered the one-round Rawhiti Open at the sea­side Christchurch mu­nic­i­pal course. And won it.

“I was about to get into the full chemo and it was just meant to be a bit of fun with the boys, but I shot 68 and won,” he said.

He be­came back to back Rawhiti cham­pion ear­lier this year.

As cheery as Purdon is now about life, golf and his fu­ture, he slows down talk­ing about what he went through and the dark places his mind went to.

Tak­ing 16-pills a day, be­ing so shat­tered he slept to 11 while ev­ery­one else went to work, only to get up, not be­ing able to eat or drink - or play golf - had its ef­fect.

“I used to lie in bed and my brain would just be full of these thoughts; when am I go­ing to die, what's hap­pen­ing to me, what's go­ing to hap­pen.”

He got dragged out of his house and taken to the golf club to sit in the cart while his mates played.

“It was about get­ting a bit of fresh air, but it had such a big im­pact for me,” he said.

“I hardly played, I hit the odd shot, but it was just two hours of not think­ing about can­cer. I was like, ‘f*** yeah,' golf takes my mind off it all.

“And it still does, I can for­get about work, for­get about any other stresses, for­get can­cer and just play.”

He said he learned a lot, but ap­pre­ci­ates golf - and life - more than he ever thought pos­si­ble.

“I re­mem­ber play­ing with dad and Tom Wil­son, a mate of mine, and I was still re­cov­er­ing and not feel­ing great. I made three birdies in seven holes. It was great, I just played golf. And I re­alised that golf's f***** cool. It's my happy place now. I still have shit days and still get an­gry, but ev­ery­thing that's hap­pened has put a lot of things in per­spec­tive.

“Yes, I've been through some shit, but bet­ter peo­ple than me have been through worse.”

Golf has been a huge help to Purdon, but noth­ing like the sup­port of his friends, fam­ily and part­ner Dena Bakkenes - a group of peo­ple he couldn't thank enough.

“I wasn't in much of a state to make de­ci­sions etc, but they were amaz­ing and with­out them and their strength, who knows what may have hap­pened to me,” he said.

All his scans have been com­ing back clean and while he won't say he's beaten his can­cer, he's proud to say he's “beat­ing it”, still.

Mak­ing the full Can­ter­bury team for the In­ter­provin­cials at North­land's Man­gawhai Golf Club wouldn't match foot­ing it with can­cer, but it would cap off a big few years for the +2.0 hand­i­cap­per.

He's been in the wider Can­ter­bury mix for a num­ber of years and not quite made the six-man team de­spite be­ing a reg­u­lar fea­ture in the build-up and wider Can­ter­bury squads since his early 20s.

In 2015 he had to pull out of con­tention be­cause of what he thought was his re­cent epilepsy scare, then in 2016 he was on track again, but hit the wall in the Can­ter­bury match­play quar­ter­fi­nals.

“That was four rounds in two days and I was still ob­vi­ously re­cov­er­ing. If I strug­gled with that, I was never go­ing to be able to play in Toro,” he said.

This time around he's “in con­tention”, ac­cord­ing to Can­ter­bury con­venor of se­lec­tors and for­mer New Zealand Se­niors player Ian Don­ald­son.

Don­ald­son was re­luc­tant to give too much away ahead of a cou­ple of big play­ing days for his squad, but said Purdon was in the hunt to make his Toro de­but.

“We haven't de­cided on the team yet, but what I will say is, as far as I'm con­cerned, Sam brings a hugely pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to the team; his de­ter­mi­na­tion and to beat what he's had, well, it's in­spi­ra­tional isn't it?

“He's also done a lot of work to get bet­ter and I know all the guys in our team, ac­tu­ally, in the golf­ing com­mu­nity, think the world of him.”

And the man him­self be­lieves he's a bet­ter golfer, now too.

“Swing wise, I'm the same, but I no­ticed some changes as soon as I started play­ing com­pet­i­tive golf again,” he said.

“(What I've been through) re­ally helped the men­tal side of my game. It wasn't like I wasn't car­ing, but it was more about me let­ting stuff go and mov­ing on.

“I don't let small things bother me in life, I'm def­i­nitely not go­ing to let them bother me on the golf course.”

And imag­ine the ef­fect on his op­po­nents if he does get to Man­gawhai - “How do I beat this guy in a bat­tle, when he's al­ready win­ning a much big­ger war”?

Sam Purdon dur­ing the 2017 Can­ter­bury Match­play golf cham­pi­onships at Hare­wood Golf Club over Labour Weekend.

Sam Purdon do­ing well post sugery.

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