In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, European Disabled Golf Association golfer Petri Takkunen shares his story of losing his arm, learning to play golf, and his advice to others who may have gone through what he has.
Over twenty years ago, before I’d ever picked up a golf club, I lost my arm in a car accident. It happened at 2pm on a road in Linköping in Sweden, when I lost control of the car and went into a drain. I don’t remember anything much more of the accident, but I was in a coma for five days. When I came around I had multiple injuries, with damage to my head, which left me with Epilepsy, along with the loss of my arm.
It affected every part of my life. I was an electrical engineer in the army and it affected my work, it affected my recreation, and all of the sports I played. I also lost some of my friends at the time, perhaps because they just didn’t know how to react to me. I had to spend a lot of time at home, relearning how to do so many things differently to what I’d ever known before. It was a steep learning curve, but I never gave up.
I played many sports before the accident, from Thai boxing, ice hockey and tennis to shooting, but golf had never been one of them. And I didn’t get into it right away. It was about four years after my accident, one of my friends suggested that I try golf. I think he’d seen something about disabled golf and thought that I could perhaps play, so I decided to give it a go. I went to the driving range and tried, and even though it was really challenging, I felt like it was something I was going to be able to do. I did a little bit of my own research, found EDGA too, and applied for a pass to play.
I actually started playing with my right arm in the forehand position in a typical right handed swing, and I did that for about three years. I was playing quite well, but when I practiced a lot in the winter, I realised it felt better when I switched to what I call backhand, using left-handed clubs with my right arm, and that’s how I still play now.
It’s not been an easy journey though. Although I had lost my left arm in the accident, my right arm had also been broken, and it led to a lot of problems and pain in my arm and shoulder. It became too much for golf, and I stopped playing from 2005-2013, and needed to have operations on my shoulder. I decided to try again in 2013, and I really dedicated my time to it. You need a lot of focus to practice to get better, which is something I like about golf, so I put in a lot of work. Once I did that I found I really improved quickly and reached a single figure handicap quite easily.
The sense of community in golf, and in golf for the disabled, has been a very important thing. I like golf because it’s challenging, and you have to really think about and execute every shot with precision. But the social side of playing with other people is also a great thing about golf, as we often don’t know who we will play with but we share the same game.
With disabled golf, we have opportunities to meet together in Finland and in other countries, and there is a good sense of community amongst the players. Really, it is like a family, with players enjoying each other’s company and sharing the experience of golf and playing with their disability. It’s a huge goal for all of us to be able to get even more people involved in the sport as I know there are many people with many disabilities that could play and really benefit from enjoying the game.
Experiences like this week and last week in Scotland mean a lot, as we get to mix with other players with the same and other disabilities. I played for the first time with Masato who comes from Japan and it was great to compare our games. But the big thing is to be around the European Tour players and watch how they prepare, how they work and practice.
I was disappointed with my first tournament - The Hero Open in Scotland - but even so this experience has given me the power to really push on and it has motivated me to look at how I can improve my game. When I first started there was no one to help me, but now I realise that I need to get a few people who can guide me. I have an athlete’s mentality and am not afraid of hard work, and so if I can work on the right things then it will be better for me.
Outside of golf, I still do shooting, and I also took up archery a few years ago. I worked in the Army and was an electronic engineer for years, and so I started shooting back then when there were many people practicing shooting, and it’s something I kept up even after my accident. But I came across archery almost by chance. I met a para wheelchair archer, and when we were talking he told me he had seen a one arm archer and that I should try it. And even though shooting and archery are very different sports to golf, they both require good focus – like golf does – so I think there’s a part of those sports that all feed into each other.
If I had to give advice to anyone in my position, it would be that you must never give up. I’m not sure when I lost my arm if I thought I’d ever be able to do any of these things, but I was never afraid of trying. And of course there are many things that I have to do differently, but my best advice is to try to live the life you want, and even though it may be hard, you must not give up on finding a way to the things that are important to you.