Finger of fate points to rough times that continue to dog Raitt

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The Independent Online

"What I need,'' Andrew Raitt said, joining several million other dreamers, "is to win the Lottery and give up the game for a while. This is a constant bloody nightmare.'' He had just finished playing in the 132nd Open Championship at Royal St George's, which provided another chapter in the bad- luck story.

The chances of the fickle finger of fate, the beckoning one in the Lottery that says it could be you, singling out Raitt for a golden handshake are not good. Few professional golfers, if any, say they're looking forward to winter so they can put their clubs in the garage and turn their attention to other things. Raitt, however, is a special case.

Eight years ago, a month after turning professional, an Alsatian bit the little finger of his left hand. Raitt was playing at his home club, St George's Hill in Weybridge, Surrey, when he bumped into another member, the owner of the Alsatian. Raitt's dog Nikki, a cross between an Alsatian and a Labrador, was attacked by the Alsatian.

"I intervened to separate them and I pulled out a golf club to give it a whack,'' Raitt said. "The Alsatian went for my left hand. The tip of my little finger was hanging off. I wrapped it in sheets of toilet roll so it didn't fall off. A friend drove me to hospital, where they taped my finger together and told me to come back in eight weeks. They couldn't stitch it because the cut was down to the bone, and they hoped it would knit together in time. The finger swelled to the size of my thumb and it turned black. I saw a couple of surgeons in England, but they wouldn't operate. They said if they did I'd be in constant pain.''

Raitt got his operation in São Paolo after partnering a Brazilian surgeon in a pro-am. "I had no idea of the effect all this would have,'' Raitt said. "The bottom line is that I have trouble holding on to a club, particularly when I play the ball out of rough.'' He took legal action, suing for damages, claiming that his career and earning potential had been severely impaired.

He expected to be awarded a six-figure sum. He received just £4,900. "The Judge awarded me £2,500 for mental anguish, £2,000 for being off work for 10 weeks and £400 because I might have played better but for the injury. I'd have got more if somebody had reversed into my car. When the court case appeared in the newspapers they took the mickey, virtually suggesting that I was no good anyway and that I did not have a promising career.''

Last week Raitt did his best to confound the judgment. He shot 69, 68 in final qualifying at Prince's, winning £500, and took his place in The Open. It was only his second appearance after making his Open debut at Carnoustie in 1999, when he missed the cut following two rounds of 78.

At Royal St George's he went out in the worst of the weather late on Thursday and shot 74 in the first round. In the second he took a double-bogey six at the first hole, came in with a 78, finished 10 over par, missed the cut by two strokes and drove home to Walton-on-Thames to watch the conclusion of the Championship on television. He won £2,000 to add to the £39,641.92 he has earned on the European Tour this season. Nearly half of it was won at the Diageo event at Gleneagles, where he finished joint 15th.

Sir Ian Kennedy, the judge who heard the case seven months ago, summed up by saying: "There is no evidence to lead me to believe that his career would have followed a different path to that which it has.'' Raitt said: "If I'd made a full recovery from the bite I wouldn't have gone to court. If somebody said you can have £1 million or go back to being a fully fit 24-year-old, the money wouldn't come into it. As it is, I'm in big debt, so I'm thinking of appealing against the court's decision. I'm facing bankruptcy and the prospect of losing my house. The trouble is, playing golf is the only way I know of paying my mortgage.''

Raitt, who is 33, was born in Roehampton, South Africa. His father is Scottish, his mother Irish, and he has spent most of his life in England. He studied at the University of Nevada for four years, winning four titles, and gained a degree in communications. He was runner-up in the 1996 Scottish PTA Championship and won the 1998 British Assistants Championship. Last season he concentrated on the Challenge Tour, and was poised to gain his card to the European Tour by finishing 15th in the money list. Instead he double-bogeyed the last two holes on the Challenge Tour Grand Final and missed out by 200 euros. He returned to the qualifying school, finished seventh and recaptured his card.

"The less I play, the better I play,'' Raitt said. "I'm doing a lot of the work in the gym, I'm getting strong and at least I can make a fist out of my hand. I'm constantly exercising my fingers on a squash ball. Who knows? In six months' time I might be raring to go again. What makes it hard is I can't produce my best. Every other professional goes out thinking they're going to have a great day. I'm hoping to play all right. Realistically, I can't come up with my A game. It's more like C or D.''

When I gave him my business card Raitt used it to clean dirt from beneath his fingernails, but not from the little finger of his left hand.