Morgan glad to be back in the swing
Journey starts again for golfer whose big breakthrough was followed by medical drama
When the young man from the West Country decided to go further west, to America, he began to feel as if he was living the dream. John Morgan had won more money than he could count and was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Tiger Woods when the great adventure turned into a nightmare.
Morgan was sitting on a plane at Dallas airport, bound for a tournament in Tahoe, when his world crashed. "All I remember is waking up in hospital with tubes sticking out all over the place. I had two damaged discs, three broken ribs and a ruptured sternum. I thought the plane had crashed. They told me I'd had the grand mal of seizures. I'd broken my seat belt and was in the splits position between two seats."
Morgan had suffered a form of epileptic fit which led to spasms and a loss of consciousness. "I'd only had one attack before when I bit my tongue, which was hanging on by a thread, and I woke up in an ambulance absolutely terrified. I haven't got a clue why it happens."
It was in 2002 that Morgan, from Bristol, joined the US Tour, finishing 11th at the qualifying school. "I could have won the thing," Morgan said. "I was leading with three holes to play and finished double-bogey, bogey, bogey. I had been playing like a man possessed. Nike offered me sponsorship and I had visions of travelling the world."
In Europe the pecking order is the European Tour, which looks down upon the Challenge Tour, which in turn glances over its shoulder at the PGA Euro Pro Tour, a relative newcomer which is run by Barry Hearn's Matchroom. Morgan set out on the latter and in seven months he gained the unique distinction of holding cards for the European, Challenge and US tours. "I still didn't have a penny to my name and thought I might give America a try."
He based himself in Florida and dyed his hair electric blue. "I did it as a bet. I found myself playing in things like the Buick Classic and joining Tiger and Vijay on the practice ground." In the summer of 2003 Morgan finished fifth twice and in all won $490,000.
The following year he made a name for himself in the John Deere Classic in Illinois. "I hit it wherever I wanted to hit it. It's a peculiar feeling. I wanted the crowd to go nuts and when I drained a 30 footer on the last for a birdie they did." Morgan shot 65 in the final round, finished at 17 under par and lost a play-off to Mark Hensby.
The runners-up cheque was worth $465,000. "It blew my bloody mind," Morgan said. "I was like a kid in a candy store. The partying started immediately and I got up and sang in front of thousands of people. I loved it." And a few weeks later he woke up in a Dallas hospital.
"I was prescribed drugs, including fierce painkillers for the injuries, and the craziest thing is that I carried on playing the Tour. I had just made the breakthrough and I didn't want to give it up. It was my worst mistake. My head was not listening to my body."
Last year Morgan was again a suitable case for treatment when, playing at Pebble Beach, he hit the root of a tree and broke the little finger of his left hand. "I couldn't lift a club for a month and the frustration of it all got to me. I trashed my bedroom. Mentally I was losing it."
Enter his coach George Ryall, who used to play on the European Tour. "I've known George for donkey's years and the help he's given me has been brilliant. I owe him so much. In America he grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and told me I was going home." Back in Bristol Morgan was re-united with his parents, Bob, a dock worker, and his mother Sue, a nurse. "When I was six my dad took me to a pitch and putt course and I was totally hooked. I used to cry if I played a bad shot."
Morgan, who learnt to play at Shirehampton GC and Clevedon, has spent the last nine months recuperating in the West Country with the help of a physio, Mike Young, and psychologist, John Pates. "I had missed the roast dinners and the Black Rat [cider] but there's only so much of EastEnders you can watch. I wanted to play again."
Two weeks ago he reappeared on the Euro Pro Tour, playing in the Oceanico Championship in the Azores, where his entry fee of £275 went towards the prize money, and he is currently competing in the Telenet Trophy in Belgium where he opened with a 66. His sponsors have long gone and at the age of 28 Morgan is starting again from scratch. "I ain't got a clue what's around the corner."
There is one fixed date in his diary - he's been invited back to the John Deere Classic.
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