THE MONDAY INTERVIEW; Carter taking nothing for granted

Two months ago, David Carter suddenly collapsed and was close to death. On Thursday he tees off in the B&H International at The Oxfordshire. Andy Farrell talked to him
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One concern about arranging a time and a place for an interview with a man who is suffering from short-term memory loss is whether he will turn up for the rendezvous. David Carter did not. He had not forgotten our appointment, however; his courtesy bus just got stuck in Madrid's city centre traffic.

Such things, if they ever did, do not worry Carter so much these days. It may have been less than two hours until his second-round tee-off time in the Spanish Open, but he was happy to continue with our chat. In truth, he was happy to be at La Moraleja playing in the Spanish Open at all.

Two months ago, on the eve of the Dubai Desert Classic, Carter underwent emergency brain surgery after collapsing in his hotel room. Carter, born in South Africa of British parents and now resident in Chesterfield, may never have reached his 25th birthday next month but for the fact he was due to be sharing his room that week with the South African player, Roger Wessels.

Carter had been suffering from headaches for a while, but not thought anything of it. Playing a morning practice round at the Emirates club, he began to feel worse than usual and went back to his hotel room. Wessels only arrived that night and when he could not raise Carter, he and other friends of Carter persuaded hotel staff to open the room. After two brain scans at the hospital, Carter underwent an operation to drain fluid from his brain. "It sounds like you should have major surgery, but it wasn't that," Carter said. "It was not a serious operation, but it was a life- threatening situation. It was all about timing. They reckon I had about three to four hours left, otherwise, underground."

Carter has no recollection of the events of the day and, as a touring golf pro who had recently been in India, Mauritius, Australia and South Africa, could have picked up the virus which caused his condition - hydro- cephalus - anywhere along his travels. A bump on his head on a water slide at the Sun City complex in South Africa may have helped bring the virus out. Inflammation caused a build-up of fluid pressure on the brain. A small hole was drilled in the skull and a pipe used to drain the fluid, then the virus was treated with antibiotics.

Remembering that Nick Price's caddie, Jeff "Squeeky" Medlen, is still fighting leukaemia, golf has had its fair share of comebacks from disease - Paul Azinger, Arnold Palmer and Jose Maria Olazabal - and Carter continued the joyful trend by finishing as runner-up, as he had the year before, in the Cannes Open. "I keep saying it, but I reckon I was just lucky. It was one of those dream stories. To have the operation, to survive it, to come back, to be two months out of the game and to come second. I don't know," said Carter, who followed that with 23rd place in Madrid and this week starts a run of three tournaments in Britain at the Benson and Hedges International on Thursday.

"I am lucky to be here and I have a lot to be thankful for. Everything happened perfectly to help me, nothing went wrong, everything went according to plan. I was in hospital in Dubai for three weeks and they would not let me out until they thought I was 100 per cent perfect. Now, I feel good. I feel like normal, although I get tired a lot more. If I start to get a light headache, I panic a bit, but the headaches I had were so bad that I would know if they were coming back. My long-term memory is fine, my short-term memory is not good but it is improving all the time. I have to keep asking people whether I have already told them things."

Now that his hair has grown back, there is no scar to spoil his good looks, but the experience has left its mark on how Carter views golf and life. "I'm glad it happened in a way. I think it has made me better in myself. I don't want to become a philosopher on life just because something has happened to me; something happens to a lot of people every day, people have accidents, everyone does. But I think it has helped me with a lot of things, like my health, which I tend to take for granted. Just to be able to walk and play golf, I appreciate more.

"I am not going to preach to people and say, `if you had gone through what I went through, you wouldn't think that way'. If you miss a three- foot putt, you can't not show emotion otherwise you would not have that killer instinct. Young players are as hungry as anything about golf, while the more you are on tour and the more you play golf every day of your life, the more that other things matter to you. I am still, whatever happened to me, as hungry as I ever was, but little things that I took for granted, I try not to take for granted."

During his stay in hospital, golf was the last thing on Carter's mind. Thanks to his medical insurance, his parents were there all the time, and his girlfriend, Sabine, visited with her uncle as did other friends from England. "For the first week and a half, I didn't know what was going on. I can't remember anything, seeing anyone, or saying anything. But from the second week, I can remember when meals came in and little things that happened. We were playing cards to pass the time and I read a John Gresham novel, all 600 pages. I only usually read golf books, golf magazines and the sport in newspapers. I could never understand how a person could sit and read a book like that, but I read the lot."

His father, Bryan, was a professional footballer before getting down to scratch as an amateur and turning pro at 47. He persuaded David to play for the first time, after a week at home, with two other pros. They all put in pounds 20 and Carter scooped the pool. Reality set in as his scores ballooned to six and seven over, but just before going to Cannes he scored seven birdies and an eagle at a local club, Walton Hall. It is only partly in jest to say that there was no point him having a lesson, because he would have forgotten everything by the next day.

"I didn't really want to practise because I wanted to get back into playing and thinking about the shot, rather than banging balls for hours. I didn't expect much, so maybe I am more relaxed on the course." His 62 in the final round equalled his course record from the year before - something he could remember - and as preferred lies were in operation, Jamie Spence's 61 did not delete Carter's name from the record book. Despite his best start to the season in three years on tour, the break meant that Carter was concerned about retaining his card for next year. The European Tour would have looked favourably on his position, but his performance in Cannes meant it was secure.

At the fifth attempt, Carter, who spent a year doing national service in the South African army before settling in England, won the Qualifying School in 1994 and added a victory in the Indian PGA last December after a seven-hole play-off. "The goals went right out the window when that thing happened to me, but I always try to better myself every year.

"I don't want to put pressure on myself by saying I going to win tournaments, I believe in myself and that I am capable of winning. I've come second a couple of times and third and fourth, and so on, so it is realistic to say that I could win a tournament in the next couple of years. My dream as a boy was to win the Open and the Masters, but I haven't even played in them yet so my first goal is to get into them."

The day after we talked, Carter shot a five-under 67 in the third round of the Spanish Open, a performance that earned him a trip to the press room. "As I was saying yesterday," he said at one point. So he remembered. "Of course. Stop trying to wind me up," he smiled.