Against Two Deadly Tornadoes and All Odds, Pfeiffer Golfer Returns to Links After Incredible Road to Recovery
June 10, 2011
STORY BY DARREN ZARY, THE STARPHOENIX
SASKATOON, S.K. - No one should have to go through what Saskatchewan golfer Troy Bulmer has already experienced in his young life. Mononucleosis, bronchitis, whooping cough, strep throat and the first confirmed Saskatchewan case of swine flu - not to mention tornadoes, which caused a horrific car crash that killed his father and nearly left him dead.
You would think Bulmer would shudder and cringe at the recent news of tornadoes ravaging the United States.
"My dad was the same way, that if you dwell on something, you're an idiot, basically," Bulmer, who plays out of Saskatoon's Riverside Country Club, now says matter-of-factly.
"Tornadoes are just a part of what happens in life and what happens everywhere. I can't be sitting at home crying, because I would have never done that before. Why should I be doing it now?"
On his way to North Carolina last summer with his dad, Rod, to begin college and an exciting new life at Pfeiffer University on a golf scholarship, their car got sucked up by a tornado and spit out nearly a kilometre away.
Rod Bulmer was killed. Troy somehow survived.
Cracked collarbone, fractured neck, torn joints, ripped tendons, broken ribs, collapsed lungs and head trauma. Bulmer was told he would never golf again.
This weekend, against all odds, he will play in a tournament for the first time since playing in the 2010 Saskatchewan Amateur last July.
Bulmer, 20, is entered in the RBC Open at Nipawin.
"That's kind of the beauty of playing golf in Saskatoon - you get used to not playing for five or sixth months," he says. "I'll go about it the same as I ever would. I'll work hard and prepare as much as I can."
On Aug. 12, 2010, Troy and Rod Bulmer had just reached the U.S. border at North Dakota. There was a tornado watch in the area and, while Troy finished going over some paperwork for entry as a student, a small tornado touched down in the surrounding area. "Just this tight little side-winder touched down for about 20 seconds and went back up," recalls Bulmer. "Right in the middle of the field with no damage.
"We just said: All right, let's keep going. In hindsight, you could say, you should have stayed there, but it's rain, it's wind and a little bit of hail. Who's not going to drive? We've driven in worse conditions than that in Saskatchewan."
Around 10 p.m., the rain and hail were coming down hard. Their goal was to reach Bismark, N.D., about 90 minutes away.
"We just kept driving really slow so the windshield wipers could keep up to the hail and rain," Bulmer recalls. "All of a sudden, this brown layer just covered across the highway - it was dirt. The whole vehicle started shifting and the back end started lifting because we got hit from behind with it.
"All of sudden, we were just airborne. We started rolling - it wasn't even that bad at first - just rolling and then we flipped off the road. We got carried a couple of hundred metres off the road onto the wheel-wells.
"At that point, we were both doing OK."
Then tornado No. 2 hit.
"We heard that sound - that freight-train sound, like everybody says. That came up and I still have no idea - my doctors and I are still confused as to why I thought to do this - but I took my T-shirt and pulled it up and put my arms (across his throat and face), just as we started to get picked up again.
"I covered my vitals, my neck and whatnot. That ended up being a huge saving factor for me because I had a whole bunch of glass in my forearms. If that glass had nicked me anywhere here, in the jugular, I'd be done." Bulmer: Overcame odds to golf again
"The second one (tornado) picked us up and we started spinning around and we got launched out. I think the final report was that we were right in between a quarter and a half-mile off the road. Basically, that was all flight time."
His body now turned upside down and seat-belt ripped from its shoulder harness, Bulmer's face was planted on the gas pedal, his toes were sticking out of the sunroof. He was eventually able to free himself, but his father could not move. Troy was able to flee the wreckage and seek help. He "hotfooted it through the field and ran, I guess, two miles" before coming across some emergency vehicles in this farmer's lot which also got hit.
"I just showed up and they all just looked at me. They were, like, 'we need to get you to a hospital.' I might have just looked like a goblin," says Bulmer.
Bulmer was taken to the first of two hospitals and the start of a long recovery process.
At first, he was told he would never golf again. About two months after his first meeting with his orthopedic surgeon, he was told he would not golf competitively again.
"About four months later, he said, 'Yeah, I expect a full recovery' and that you're good to go, basically."
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Bulmer admits it was tough on him both physically and mentally until he got back to Saskatoon.
"The support and everything I had from my friends, they completely eliminated the emotional (pain) - not completely, but you know what I mean," he says.
"Physically, obviously, there was a lot of mending to do. They say 60 per cent is mental and the other 40 per cent is in your head. It was actually ridiculous at times. I had my own private room and the signing sheet, at one time, there were 27 people in my room.
"When you've got that many people hoping that you can get better, how can't you?"
Around Christmas time, Bulmer was finally allowed to hit balls. He'd hit 10 to 15 balls, but then got tired, so he did a lot of putting and chipping instead. He didn't get back to hitting anything stronger than an eight-iron until March.
He was going two or three times to the Ramada Dome with swing coach Earl Scott from Christmas to March.
Scott says Bulmer's comeback has
been pretty amazing.
"His distance and work ethic is very impressive . . . you can attribute a lot of it to his own willpower to get better and healthy," says Scott, head professional at Riverside.
"It's a testament to his character and what he's gone through and how well he's done mentally. I'm very impressed with the way he's come back and how he's dedicated himself to the game. A lot of quick return, especially physically, is just from his hard work. That's just showing up in his golf game."
Phil Grosse, manager of sport development for Golf Saskatchewan, says he had the pleasure of playing golf with Troy in late May.
"No. 3 at Riverside is 440 and he drove the ball 10 yards short of the green," recalls Grosse. "Yeah, we had a 60-km wind behind us, but it was unbelievable because the very next hole, No. 4, he hit the green, 429 yards, with a side wind. People think I hit the ball long, but this kid hits it a ton. I am not use to seeing somebody hit the ball 80100 yards by me.
"His potential is huge. He was long before and, after everything he has been through, he is 15 to 20 yards longer now."
Through the years, Grosse also watched Bulmer battle mononucleosis, H1N1 virus and weight loss.
Near the end of his Grade 12 year, Bulmer contracted H1N1.
"It got me really bad," he recalls. "It settled into my lungs and kidneys."
DAD WAS BEST FRIEND
In Nipawin this weekend, Bulmer will be without his best friend and occasional caddy, his dad.
Tournament participants will wear green ribbons in memory of the late Rod Bulmer and late StarPhoenix sports editor Doug McConachie.
"He took (caddying) very seriously," Troy says of his dad. "He absolutely loved doing it. He'd always grow a tournament moustache or goatee."
A colleague had told him that the two Bulmers together were like two teenagers.
"He always said, 'I don't think I've seen a son and his dad talk and hang out like the way you do, like, literally, two buddies. That was the same with (brother) Kelly and (sister) Torrie. Nothing was off limits. He'd just shoot the breeze like a normal kid. For being a 50-plus guy - he'd be 52 this past May 11 - he was a very, very, very young 51, you could say.
"His favourite motto was, 'I'm never growing old.' As much as it sucks, he never did grow old."