England’s Sean Towndrow will return to international golf next month – a year after he was diagnosed with a blood cancer.
It put his flourishing amateur career on pause as he set off on a 12-month rollercoaster of treatment and recovery from a rare form of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
But now, exactly a year after he had to put his life on hold, all his test results are looking good and the 25-year-old has been given the go-ahead to return to normal.
First stop is South Africa, where Towndrow, from Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club in Lancashire, will join three other internationals to represent England in four tournaments. He’ll be playing alongside English champion Dan Brown from Masham in Yorkshire, Josh Hilleard from Farrington Park, Somerset, and James Walker from The Oaks, Yorkshire.
The trip brings Towndrow full circle, for he was due to set off to South Africa to play for England in 2016 when he became ill. Instead, he found himself in hospital, receiving chemo and radio therapy.
Throughout the year, returning to top level golf was one of his aims and he’s kept in close contact with fellow members of the England men’s squad, their manager, Kevin Tucker and England Golf staff.
“Golf has been something for me to work towards and Kevin promised me that if I got back I would have a trip. That’s been the biggest thing, when you miss a year of your life you want it back. Kevin and everyone at England Golf have been fantastic.”
His golf friends have been part of a wider support network. “Everyone has been incredible. My golf club has been brilliant, all my friends have been around me all the time, cheering me up and taking me out. My parents were there at every single appointment I went to through the year. It’s all been phenomenal and without it you’d struggle.
“I’m so thankful for all the support, for all the text messages, emails, Twitter and Facebook – it all helps so much. When you are going through it you can read nice messages and know people are thinking of you. There are so many people to thank.”
Towndrow’s illness revealed itself firstly with tiredness and then with a spell of uncontrollable shivering and chest pain. Tests revealed a tumour in his chest which rapidly grew to 10x14cm and which was pushing on his heart, his right lung and eventually his oesophagus.
“It took a few weeks to be diagnosed and you’re always hopeful, but in the end I just accepted it for what it was. The doctors and nurses were great and there were factors that were favourable to me: there wasn’t much evidence it had spread elsewhere; it was something which responds really well to treatment; I was young and fit. Everything was in my favour, that’s how I saw it.
“I don’t want to speak for everyone in that position but you find strength to cope that you didn’t realise you had. There’s always something round the corner, something to focus on and I just thought I had to knuckle down, do the best I could and hopefully come out the other side.”
And what of his golf? England Golf has arranged for Towndrow to work with a rehabilitation expert to build up his fitness and he managed to play at his club in the latter part of last season.
“Amazingly I played four competitions and managed to improve my handicap!” he laughed. “I can’t wait to get to South Africa. The last 12 months has been an abnormal year and I can’t wait to get away for a few weeks, playing in the sunshine with my mates, and getting back to normal.”
The four internationals will play:
– The South African stroke play championship at Kingswood Golf Estate, George; 7-10 February 2017
– The Cape Province Open at George Golf Club and Oubaai Golf Club, George; 14-16 February 2017
– The South African Amateur at Humewood Golf Club, Port Elizabeth; 19-24 February 2017
– The African Amateur stroke play championship at Leopard Creek Golf Estate, near Malelane, from 28 February to 3 March 2017
Image © Leaderboard Photography