He was living every golfer’s dream – playing alongside the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott. Then, in the blink of an eye in 2010, he suffered an unimaginable nightmare in a tragic car accident which claimed the life of the other victim. Now, after nearly six years and 27 operations, Zimbabwean miracle man Marc Cayeux is back playing the game he loves…
It is a remarkable story of courage, pain, tragedy and love with an ever-increasing likelihood of the happiest of endings.
Marc Cayeux playing alongside Tiger Woods in 2005
Five and a half years ago, he was told he may never walk again, yet just this week he played in his second competitive tournament since suffering horrendous injuries in a crash in which the driver of the other car – a policeman who hit a cow causing him to swerve into a head-on collision – died.
For a man who has won three times on the European Challenge Tour, the second of which came at the 2004 Barclays Kenya Open, the same tournament which this week launches is the Challenge Tour season, just completing 18 holes is a mere victory in itself – even if an opening 67 on Monday on the way to a tied 24th finish in a mini-tour event proved he has got the game to compete again.
“It was a long way to come to get my game back to any kind of competitive level and the most frustrating part for me was that I remember how I used to play and how I used to be able to hit it,” said the 38 year old.
“My mind still thinks that I can hit those shots but my body and my mind just don’t work together like they used to.
Cayeux’s major injuries
• Right knee moved four inches into femur, with femur completely shattered
• Left ankle almost severed – “I still remember watching my left foot just hanging, almost separated from my leg”
• Stomach muscle torn from centre of the core to right hip – separated from the bone
“There have been two different mindsets throughout my recovery which I have had to deal with – trying to maybe face the fact that I can never get back there to where I used to be, or just focusing myself on getting back there.
“But the beauty of golf is that it’s a lifelong game so I’ve got time to work with. Golfers tend to improve when their mindset gets better and they become more mature. I’ve looked at lots of stats and golfers tend to peak between 30-35, although there are obviously some exceptions like Vijay (Singh) and Miguel (Angel Jiménez), who peaked late in their careers.
“There have been a lot of situations where people have asked me could I get back to where I was, and I always say that I wish I had the mindset and attitude I have now before the accident - when I was fit and healthy.
Marc Cayeux profiled for European Tour Weekly in 2007
“People say that pain is temporary but the pain I have had since the accident is not temporary. Still though, when I’m walking on a golf course it really takes my mind off it. It’s a lot different playing 18 holes now that it was before, I’m a lot more grateful. Before, if I had one bad hole or one bad shot, it really affected me.”
While it has been a trying ordeal for Cayeux, he has found it within himself to get through it all with some humour and although his height has reduced due to several operations, his larger-than-life personality only seems to have grown bigger as a result.
“My right leg was shortened from the crash and for two months I was walking around with a built up shoe on my right foot, but I didn’t like that at all so I wanted to look at other options,” he said.
Ben Hogan has been a big inspiration for me, his story is incredible
“My options then were then to either lengthen the right leg or shorten the left leg, but lengthening the right one was a little more dangerous because there was more of a chance of infection.
“I had a good laugh at myself with the doctors quite often and told them I didn’t want to be walking around in circles on the golf course! So they took an inch from the left femur and shortened my right leg a little too.
7 – number of weeks Cayeux spent in an Intensive Care Unit
3 – number of months he spent in hospital
27 – number of operations he has had since the crash in September 2010
2 – number of tournaments he has played in the last five years
“But as I say to the doctors, at least I’m a little closer to the greens so I can read the putts better – it also helps that I have a bit more leg room in the aeroplane!”
Soon before the accident, Cayeux had reached some heady career highs and, having won three times on the Challenge Tour – two of those coming in the 2004 season en route to European Tour graduation – it appeared as if the England-born player was capable of going all the way to the top.
With the story of Ben Hogan - who also suffered a serious car accident before bouncing back to become one of the greatest players in the game – serving as inspiration, he is now targeting gradual milestones and is hoping that, with a radically different life perspective on his side, he can once again feel the buzz of the big-time tournament atmosphere.
“The highlights of my career were definitely playing alongside players such as Tiger, Scott and Mickelson and I have to keep saying to myself that I can get back there,“ he said.
Cayeux playing alongside Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson in 2008
“Of course there have been some very dark and dull days where I wonder if I can ever get back to where I was as a golfer but you’ve got to pick yourself up and believe that you can do it.
“It has been tough though, and some people have asked me how I can go back to the likes of the Joburg Open and the SA Open and walk around without being able to play. Yeh, it is hard to be there sometimes but I like to walk around and pretend a little bit like I’m still competing, just to feel the atmosphere and the buzz again, and I think that really helps to motivate me.
“Ben Hogan has been a big inspiration for me, his story is incredible. It’s a story I never knew until after I had the accident but now at home I have the movie about his life and his book, which I read while I was in hospital.
In the hard days you have to realise how fortunate we are in life
“I’d like to believe that hopefully I can make an impact on other people’s life with my story, just like Hogan’s story really helped me through this.
“In the hard days you have to realise how fortunate we are in life and that we just have to make the most of the opportunity that we have.
“One day during rehabilitation I was complaining that I did not want to get into the swimming pool because I was in too much pain, but then I looked over and saw someone in a wheelchair who didn’t even have the opportunity to get in the swimming pool.”
While Cayeux has certainly played the lead role in this incredible comeback story, it would not have been possible without his supporting cast – primarily his wife Jana and sons Ross and Jason, but also his compatriots Tony Johnstone, Mark McNulty and Nick Price.
Zimbabwean golf legend Johnstone alerted The European Tour to Cayeux’s tragic circumstances back in 2011 and the Tour’s Benevolent Trust has helped him financially throughout his rehabilitation.
“The European Tour have helped the most and I could not have done it without their financial support,” he said. “It was Tony who brought it to their attention because I was still a member when I had the crash.
“As a junior growing up in Zimbabwe, there were three players we all looked up to, Tony, as well as Mark and Nick, and Tony has been so supportive of me throughout this – it really shows the true character of the man.”
Want to say how proud I am of fellow Zimbo Marc Cayeux on shooting 2 67's after 5 YEARS of operations/rehab from horror accident. @cmjrj22 👍— Tony Johnstone (@TonyJohnstone56) March 15, 2016