PRO­FILE

Ex-royal Ma­rine Aaron Moon lost his leg af­ter be­ing blown up in Afghanistan. But he won’t let that stop him achiev­ing his dream of play­ing on the Euro­pean Tour. This is his story

Golf Asia - - CONTENTS - WORDS MICHAEL CATLING PIC­TURES BOB ATKINS

Ma­rine Vet turned golfer

Golf was never more than a hobby for Aaron Moon. He sim­ply didn’t have the time. When he wasn’t serv­ing in the Marines, he was play­ing rugby for them. “I loved ev­ery minute of it,” he ad­mits. “It was like a Peter Pan club; we never grew up, and it be­came my life.” He was ap­proach­ing six years as a Royal Ma­rine Com­mando when, just two weeks into his first com­bat tour in Afghanistan, he went out on pa­trol and never re­turned to base camp. Ev­ery­thing, he says, changed in a split sec­ond when he was left bro­ken in half, quite lit­er­ally. “My stom­ach was torn open and I was a mess,” ex­plains Moon. “It crossed my mind that I wasn’t go­ing to make it.” The bloody mess was the by-prod­uct of a bomb which blew Moon through the door of an ar­moured ve­hi­cle in Hel­mand Prov­ince. He even­tu­ally landed in a crater cre­ated by the IED he’d just driven over. “I just re­mem­ber look­ing down and think­ing, ‘oh s***, I’ve been blown up here’,” re­calls the 30-year-old. “I was just in bits. I had smashed my heel open, bro­ken both bones in my lower right leg, dis­lo­cated both knees, bro­ken my hip, dis­lo­cated my pelvis, bro­ken my back, rup­tured my spleen and bro­ken my col­lar­bone... From my neck down­wards, I was pretty knack­ered.”

He was air­lifted to Camp Bas­tion, where he was put in a med­i­cally in­duced coma and un­der­went life-sav­ing op­er­a­tions. “I was trans­ferred to the UK overnight and woke up a week later,” he con­tin­ues.

“I was in in­ten­sive care for six weeks in to­tal, and I was in hos­pi­tal for five months. I spent a few months in a body brace where I lit­er­ally couldn’t do any­thing. I had to go to the toi­let ly­ing down which, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried, isn’t very nice. But... I’m still here.”

He makes light of what hap­pened now, and jokes that he’s made of sterner stuff than an ar­moured door. “Bul­lets can’t even go through one of those doors, whereas I did,” he quips. “So, I would like to think I’m harder than an ar­moured ve­hi­cle.” The scars, though, are no laugh­ing mat­ter, and left him con­tem­plat­ing a life con­fined to a wheel­chair and crutches. “I was in a lot of pain with my right leg,” he says. “They kept try­ing dif­fer­ent op­er­a­tions, but noth­ing was work­ing. Even­tu­ally, they came to me with the op­tion of hav­ing my right leg am­pu­tated, but by that point it was a no­brainer. I’d seen lads who’d lost their legs, and they were up run­ning and play­ing dif­fer­ent sports.

“Straight away, I was like ‘get it off’ and I had it taken off in Novem­ber 2010. I haven’t looked back since.”

It was dur­ing his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion at Headley Court that he was in­tro­duced to John Simp­son, the founder of the On Course Foun­da­tion, who en­cour­aged him to start play­ing golf again. “He was in­stru­men­tal in my re­cov­ery,” says Moon, who was med­i­cally dis­charged from the Marines in 2011. “John’s helped to get me where I am to­day. He showed me that my life wasn’t over, and I could play golf.”

Nev­er­the­less, Moon ad­mits it was lit­tle more than an ex­cuse to get out and about. Af­ter leav­ing re­hab, golf took a back seat

while he qual­i­fied as a close pro­tec­tion of­fi­cer, and then opened a gym and be­came a per­sonal trainer in 2012. “Ev­ery job I tried seemed like a nat­u­ral tran­si­tion from the Marines, but noth­ing re­ally ‘bit’ me,” he says “I found my­self bounc­ing from thing to thing, and ev­ery time I kept com­ing back to golf. In the end, I started prac­tis­ing more and thought I’d com­mit my­self and try this golf malarkey.”

Within nine months of do­ing so, how­ever, he was back on the op­er­at­ing ta­ble in late 2015. “That was prob­a­bly the hardest part,” ad­mits Moon, whose first of­fi­cial hand­i­cap was 11.5. “I had to keep go­ing back in for op­er­a­tions be­cause I had a big hole at the end of my stump that wouldn’t heal. The worst thing was that my wife and I had our first child a month be­fore I had the op­er­a­tion. She had to have a C-sec­tion, so I was strug­gling to walk and she couldn’t lift any­thing heav­ier than the baby.”

Af­ter a 10-week lay-off, he was back on the course and landed a job as an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sional at Bolton Golf Club soon af­ter. By the end of 2016, he’d met Don­ald Trump at Turn­berry, ap­peared on Sky Sports and made his PGA de­but at Fleet­wood Golf Club. Not that Moon has fond mem­o­ries of his first pro­fes­sional out­ing. “We only played eight holes be­fore it was called off,” be­moans Moon. “It was orig­i­nally re­duced to nine holes, and then one of the pros slipped on the edge of the green and broke his leg…”

Moon tails off mid-flow, be­fore glanc­ing up at our pho­tog­ra­pher and flush­ing the first of sev­eral tee shots straight down the fair­way. “The last time I felt nerves like this was hit­ting shots on the Open Zone at Troon,” he says, puff­ing out his cheeks.

“So many peo­ple were send­ing me mes­sages at Christ­mas be­cause Sky were show­ing the best of the Open Zone, and I made the cut. To make it onto their high­light reel was pretty cool, but I’ve had so many amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ences since los­ing my leg.

“Through the On Course Foun­da­tion, I was lucky enough to meet Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill. I think there are peo­ple in the world who would have paid mil­lions to do that. I also met Justin Rose on the range at Lake Nona, and got to play with

‘To join the Marines I had to put my body through hell, so I’ve shown I can put IN the hours to get where I want to be’

‘I’ve been quite lucky be­cause some of the worst scars peo­ple get are the ones you can’t see’

Tommy Fleet­wood in a pro-am at the Scot­tish Open [in 2016]. Meet­ing all of them, Tommy es­pe­cially, re­ally in­spired me to keep get­ting bet­ter. I know Tommy’s had his hard times, nearly los­ing his card, but now he’s Euro­pean No.1. It just goes to show that if you put the ef­fort in, you’ll get re­warded.”

It’s a motto that un­der­pins Moon’s weekly rou­tine, which in­volves jug­gling nappy duty and prac­tis­ing be­fore and af­ter work. “At the minute, I work four to five days a week at Bolton Golf Club while study­ing for my PGA de­gree, which the Royal Marines Char­ity paid for,” he ex­plains. “I’m in the gym at six in the morn­ing, and then I’ll stay late hit­ting balls on the range. I try to prac­tise ev­ery day if I can be­cause my pas­sion is play­ing.

“I don’t want to be sit­ting in a pro shop sell­ing Mars bars. To join the Royal Marines, I had to put my body through 32 weeks of hell. We started with 52 lads and there were only 20 of us left at the end, so I think I’ve shown that I can put in the hours to get to where I want to be.”

Moon cred­its his coach Damian Tay­lor, a for­mer Euro­pean Tour pro, for keep­ing him grounded and “trans­form­ing his game,” but ad­mits his dis­abil­ity does limit what he can and can­not do. “Up­hill and down­hill lies I re­ally strug­gle with,” he says, rolling up his trouser leg to re­veal his pros­thetic limb. “Bal­ance is a big is­sue for me, es­pe­cially when I swing through. My weight is al­ways on my heels. I can try and get on my toes, but then I have a re­ally bent knee and lose bal­ance. It can be frus­trat­ing, but Damian has been phe­nom­e­nal with me. The good thing is that he doesn’t treat me any dif­fer­ently to ev­ery other player he coaches.”

Moon could play in dis­abled tour­na­ments, but says he doesn’t want to take that op­por­tu­nity away from some­one else. He has big­ger aims any­way, and is hop­ing to be­come the first am­putee to play on the Euro­pean Tour. “That’s the dream,” adds Moon, who says he’s eter­nally grate­ful to spon­sors Srixon and adi­das. “I know it’s not easy, but I be­lieve that if I work hard, I can achieve any­thing. I met Robert Rock last month and he started off do­ing his PGA de­gree and coach­ing. But af­ter re­al­is­ing it wasn’t for him, he ded­i­cated him­self to the game and now he’s won on the Euro­pean Tour.

“I don’t think I’m far away; I’m av­er­ag­ing a cou­ple un­der par on a good day and hit­ting 295 [yards] off the tee. When I had my fit­ting with Srixon, they put a shaft in my driver which only three play­ers on tour are us­ing be­cause you need a swing speed of over 120mph to get the best out of it. So that made me feel good about things. I know peo­ple will say I won’t make it, but that will only fuel me to be­lieve I can.”

In the mean­time, Moon has signed up to com­pete on the Manch­ester-based 1836 Pro Tour and is hop­ing to se­cure a

spon­sor’s in­vite to play a Chal­lenge Tour event in Switzer­land at the end of May, be­fore head­ing to Q School later in the year. A lot, though, de­pends on if he can se­cure a fi­nan­cial spon­sor to cover the costs of play­ing full-time. Even if he doesn’t, Moon says he won’t give up and will count him­self lucky that he’s still able to do the things he loves.

“You’ve got be grate­ful for what you’ve got, not what you’ve lost,” he says. “I’ve had 30 surg­eries, maybe more, but I think I’ve been quite lucky. Some of the worst scars peo­ple get are the ones you can’t see. I know lads who have suf­fered from PTSD and it’s not a pretty thing. It may sound a bit weird, but what I went through has changed me in a good way. I’m a lot more pos­i­tive now. I sup­pose if I met the bloke who put that bomb in the ground I would prob­a­bly want to shake his hand, rather than pay him back. He’s made me the per­son I am to­day.”

For now, Moon’s im­me­di­ate fo­cus is on try­ing to give back to the On Course Foun­da­tion by run­ning coach­ing ses­sions for in­jured and sick ser­vice per­son­nel. “That’s the whole idea be­hind the char­ity,” he ex­plains.

“I’ve gone full cir­cle now. There’s not much more they can do for me, and this is my way of say­ing thank you to them.”

Aaron says: I’m try­ing to make sure I have my weight evenly dis­trib­uted as I have a ten­dency to load my front leg. His coach Damian Tay­lor says: A nice neu­tral set-up po­si­tion, with a clean line from lead shoul­der down to the ball. The pres­sure favours the lead side 55-45.

Damian says: A full turn sees Aaron’s body wind up into this fully-loaded po­si­tion. We’re also en­sur­ing his left arm stays com­fort­ably straight to achieve this wide po­si­tion at the top. One of Aaron’s ten­den­cies is to let his right el­bow fly a lit­tle, so he has to fo­cus on it point­ing down here.

Damian says: Aaron’s shoul­ders, chest, arms, hands and club move away from the ball nicely in sync dur­ing the take­away, see­ing a slight shift in pres­sure into the trail side. From here, his right arm will start to fold and the wrist will start to set.

Aaron says: At im­pact I am try­ing to de­liver the club­face square to tar­get. I usu­ally start the ball left with a slight fade. Damian says: Some­times the club over­takes the hands a lit­tle early, so one key we work on is to feel the han­dle of the club (hence his hands are a lit­tle more for­ward at this point).

Damian says: An­other of Aaron’s ten­den­cies is to open his left shoul­der a lit­tle early in the tran­si­tion, so you can see here how he holds the left shoul­der nicely to al­low the club to fall into a good de­liv­ery po­si­tion. This helps him to power through the ball with the con­fi­dence that the club is on plane.

Aaron says: I am try­ing to turn through the ball rather than slide for­ward as I have a ten­dency to move my weight off my back leg. Damian says: A nice, bal­anced fin­ish po­si­tion here – al­ways the sign of a solid swing.

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