Stepping out on the first tee, getting to feel all the butterflies, the nervousness, and the
excitement was something I always enjoyed, even looked forward to. Then at last came my
favorite part. “On the tee, from Tucson, Arizona: Mike Guillen.” Not much of a gallery, mostly
girlfriends and friends of my playing partners, and my caddie, Shawn. Although there was no
applause after my name was announced, after what I had fought back from just six months
earlier, simply being there felt like receiving a standing ovation.
This story begins on December 16, 2007. It was an extremely cold morning, by Tucson
standards, as we loaded up the car and headed out to Scottsdale, Arizona. My (now-ex) girlfriend
was always my biggest supporter, and joined me for any tournament she could. For the
past three years, golf was my life, and after all the work and sacrifice, it was time to put my skill
to the test. Sure, I had played a few tournaments as a professional before, but not with money at
stake. A chance to actually receive a check for my performance on the course had always been a dream.
At around 7:30 am, as we pulled up to the golf course, it was evident this was going to be
a rather long day. Frost clung to nearly every blade of grass as far as the eye could see. Tee
times were pushed back ninety minutes, which gave us ample time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast
at a nearby restaurant. On our trip back, we saw the sheet of frost had gently melted away,
leaving us with a vibrant green landscape. One of the first obstacles I encountered was the lack
of a driving range that day. Not one to dwell on the issue, I decided to sharpen up my short
game before I made my way to the first tee. After introducing myself to my playing partners, it
was time to get to business. “Next on the tee, from Tucson, Arizona: Mike Guillen.”
I got off to a fairly rocky start, missing two short putts on the first two holes. Undeterred,
I stepped up to the third hole determined to turn things around. “Just rip it hard down the right-
hand side,” I told myself, and as I made my downswing, something was different. My thoughts
immediately switched to the fact that I had been overweight for much of my adult life. I
suddenly recalled that the soreness in my knee over the previous few weeks had been suspicious, but nothing to worry about. Finally, I made damn sure that I fell straight back in order to avoid further injury, for my right leg was no longer working in unison. It had, in fact, been blown
out at the knee. As I lay there like a helpless geriatric, everyone else in my group rushed over to see what exactly happened. Their attention was focused on where my ball was headed, and when they didn’t see a small white sphere flying through the air, they turned to see me flat on my back, screaming bloody murder. Trying to keep the mood light, although I was in excruciating
pain, I asked one of the gentlemen watching over me, “Where did the ball go?” He replied, trying hard not to laugh, “Still sitting on the tee, Bud.”
Fortunately, the golf course was eight blocks from a hospital and the tee box was only
about 50 feet from a road. Within minutes, a crew of four E.M.T.s was on the scene to assess the situation. Thankfully, there were four of them, because it took every one of them to get my
portly, 305 pound body on the stretcher and into the ambulance. A few minutes later, I was
whisked into the emergency room, where a doctor gave me an ultimatum: wait 45 minutes for
pain killers before they attempt to pop my knee back into place, or suck it up and do it right now.
Without hesitation, I opted for option B, and in one fell swoop, and a very loud pain-filled
scream, they twisted my kneecap back into place. “Go ahead,” one of the doctor’s said, “it’s all
done, you can bend your knee again.” I tried all I could, and nothing budged. I was instructed to
see an orthopedic surgeon as soon as I could. Being that it was a Sunday and these folks had better things to do, like watch football, I nodded and smiled, and thirty minutes later I was headed back to the golf course. I waited patiently at the clubhouse for my group to finish, so I could explain what happened and show that I was okay. I shook hands with everyone, went to the pharmacy to pick up my pain-killers, and spent the entire drive home pondering what my near future had in store for me.
The next morning, I made an appointment to see an orthopaedic surgeon. Luckily, they were able to pencil me in that afternoon. My concern had grown considerably because I was still unable to move my right leg. After checking in and meeting with Dr. Q, I was hopeful that my concerns were no big deal. In the x-ray room, I struggled with giving the nurse a particular angle she desired, known as, “a sunrise.” After five minutes of painful manipulation, the desired angle is received. When the Dr. returned, he pulled up the screen with the resulting x-rays, and it was clear that everything was not fine. The x-ray showed that my knee cap was stuck against the right side of my femur. It was one of those feelings where the image was speaking to me, saying, “Yeah, you’re screwed.” The only option was to operate, both to replace my knee cap and to ensure that all the tendons and ligaments had not been damaged either. Initial diagnosis for recovery: three months minimum, assuming that no other damage was done. It was more painful emotionally, realizing that my career was in jeopardy in its infancy.
My surgery was scheduled for the 19th, three days after the accident. Surgery went well, with the exception of getting my arms bruised from trying to insert the IV. (I later discovered that the Dr commented that I was very guarded. I was initially offended, which is probably a strong indication of someone who is guarded. Well played, sir.) The doctor was also kind enough to visit me that evening in recovery. “Other than losing a sliver of cartilage, everything is okay,” he said calmly. “Just rest for the next two weeks, then you will begin physical therapy.” Then the biggest question I had arose: “After therapy, will I still be able to pursue my golf career?”
“If you can manage to lose weight, then absolutely.”
It was a huge relief to hear that. He suggested gastric bypass as an option, which sounded more like a sales pitch than an optimal plan to health. My hospital roommate that night had that exact operation. He spent most of the night walking through the halls in regular intervals, which is common for gastric bypass patients. No, surgery was not the answer for me. This fat boy was going to slim down the old-fashioned way: with knowledge and hard work.
Recovering from surgery gave me a ton of free time, and I spent it the way any other nerd with stitches would: reading books on nutrition. My savior through this endeavor was the book, “Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy,” a book compiled with research done at Harvard Medical School, detailing facts on what certain foods do to one’s body. By the time physical therapy started, I was armed with the tools that would serve me well during my nine weeks of rebuilding what had been damaged.
My second savior was my physical therapist, Angie. She was a kind soul, but had no problem pushing me to my limits. She knew I was determined to get my career back on track, and her guidance was phenomenal. By March 7th, the entire physical therapy office had noticed the incredible transformation from physical ruin to athletic prowess. After my final stretch and massage, which were always the highlight of my sessions, I gave her a big hug.
There was still one obstacle to overcome: the doctor’s clearance. The first thing I did was hop on the scale: 268. When the doctor came into the room, his expression was priceless. “You have been the ideal patient; I cannot ask more from someone. You’re free to go back to work.” There was still plenty of work to do, and I didn’t waste a single minute of it. Three months later, and it was time to make my comeback. This time, at a much trimmer 245 lbs.
I would love to say that this comeback has a fairy tale ending, but unfortunately life doesn’t always work that way. I finished dead last in my next two tournaments, which have also been my last two tournaments. Overcoming adversity is a part of life, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. Although my golf career has been, up to this point, a failure, in that window of time I was able to rise to the occasion, overcome my obesity, and recover from my physical ailment. Despite the hardship, the accident was truly a blessing in disguise.