Making your 280th Tour start is not traditionally a cause for celebration, but Benn Barham’s appearance at next week’s Barclays Kenya Open will undoubtedly be a red letter day.
Since he was last seen in competitive action at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on October 9, 2010, Barham’s life has changed forever.
Having made a combined 279 appearances on The European and Challenge Tours, not to mention played thousands of practice rounds, swinging a golf club had become as natural to Barham as eating, sleeping and breathing.
But after a scan revealed a cancerous tumour on his right kidney, all the things he had previously taken for granted suddenly ground to a juddering halt.
With his career and even his life in jeopardy, Barham was forced to endure some dark days. But the 35 year old from Kent can now see the light again after having the kidney removed at the end of October, and enduring a slow and at times extremely painful rehabilitation.
Now, five months on, Barham is about to pack his clubs and suitcase and take to the skies to resume his career as a professional golfer. It is a routine he has gone through hundreds of times, but one he feared he might never be able to make again.
Barham said: “The past six months have been very tough – I’ve gone through a real roller-coaster of emotions, from unbelievable lows to real highs and everything in between. Now that I’m hopefully through the worst of it, I’m looking forward to getting back out on the golf course and competing again. Golf has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember, so I’ve really missed it over the past six months.
“It’s going to be interesting in Kenya, and it might take me a while to get my sharpness back and to start competing again. The Challenge Tour’s very competitive, and nobody’s going to be feeling sorry for me or doing me a favour because of what’s happened. When you hit that first tee shot, it’s every man for himself. But I’ve got a lot of friends on Tour, so I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces and hopefully getting back into the swing of things again.”
As one of the more experienced heads on the Challenge Tour, and having finished in the top ten in six previous appearances at the Barclays Kenya Open, under normal circumstances Barham would have been viewed as a leading contender to succeed his compatriot Robert Dinwiddie as champion.
But given that his circumstances are anything but normal, expectations will have to be lowered accordingly.
And whilst most professional golfers would rightly disregard the notion that it is the taking part – rather than the winning – that counts, for once Barham will be happy just to feel part of the action again.
He said: “I’m obviously going to be a bit nervous on the first tee in Kenya, because it’s almost like I’m starting out again. But I know the course well and it’s a tournament I’ve enjoyed playing in the past, so it’s a great week to be making my comeback. Obviously I’ll have to manage my expectations, but I’m determined to enjoy it because I feel like I’ve been given a second chance, at life and also at my career.
“They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and that’s definitely been the case with me over the past six months. I’m raring to go again, and I’m probably hungrier and even more determined to do well than I was before. I’m desperate for my golf to start making the headlines again instead of my illness, because whilst it’s obviously changed my life I just want to put it behind me now and move on.
“I’m itching to get on with my life and my career, but obviously I have to realise that it may take a while to get back to where I was. I’m a competitive sportsman and we’re not patient by nature, but if the past six months have taught me anything, it’s that you can’t afford to rush these things.”