In September 2006, two days after leaving hospital, Reinard Schuhknecht got on to the driving range and began to hit golf balls. It wasn’t a place he imagined visiting as an able-bodied 14-year-old playing rugby and doing cycling a few months earlier, but things had changed.
A freak accident led to the amputation of his right arm and the simplest tasks, such as putting on a belt, had become an obstacle.
Nowadays he’s a two-time winner of the One Armed World Match Play and World Stroke Play Championships and hopes to turn professional.
‘After my accident my friends came to visit me in the hospital and said they all played golf, so now I could join them. I wasn’t very keen on it, because if you lose your arm you aren’t really keen to do anything afterwards.
‘Back then I laughed at the suggestion, but these days they don’t even give me shots when we play together!’
In 2006 Schuhknecht and a few others were at a friend’s house, where the boys were jumping off the roof into the pool. Without realising it he grabbed an electric cable, which electrocuted him at 11 000 volts.
The current went in at his right hand and exited through his feet, leaving deep wounds. He was airlifted to Garden City Clinic and spent three weeks in ICU, and it was only when he got to high care that he realised his right arm was amputated above the elbow.
‘I cannot describe the trauma my family had to go through. My elder brother started his Grade 12 exams three days after my accident and I think it must’ve been tough for him. My father and mother stayed at a guest house across from the hospital for the entire three weeks I was in ICU. It was very traumatic for them because I had to go to theatre every second evening to have dead flesh removed from my wounds,’ he said.
After a fortnight in high care he was moved to a rehabilitation hospital, where he learned how to do everything with his left hand, including brushing his teeth and writing.
‘I’m still writing slower than I used to, but my mom says she can actually read my handwriting now!’ says Schuhknecht, who wrote and passed his Grade 12 exams in 2010. ‘When I start something I have to finish it.’
His determination to succeed was evident on the golf course, where he quickly began to give his friends a run for their money. ‘It was tough for the first month or five, but my mates supported me a lot and I began to play good golf. I went for some coaching and after that I decided to take it up seriously,’ he says.
Between 2007 and 2012 he became a force in South African disabled golf and a handful of amateur trophies, all while coming to terms with his disability.
‘It was strange for me to see so many guys without arms or legs playing golf. That was quite an eye-opener,’ says the Vanderbijlpark local.
By 2013 he was internationally competitive and that year became the Society of One Armed Golfers’ Stroke Play Champion.
The following year was a watershed season for the 26-year-old, who was crowned the One Armed World Champion after winning the World Match Play Championship on the 19th hole at Seaford Country Club in England. In 2015 he successfully defended the title by beating eight-time winner Nick Champness 1 up in the final with an eight-foot putt on the last hole. He also won the Stroke Play Championship, becoming undoubtedly the best one-armed golfer in the world.
Schuhknecht’s dream is to play professional golf and at present he competes on the local IGT Tour, teeing up alongside SA’s future stars.
‘I try to play between three and five IGT Tour events each year, and it’s good for me to compete against able-bodied golfers in a different league. It enhances my game and I turn heads there too, but I don’t even realise when I play or do anything. It’s only when someone talks about it that I’m like “Oh, ja, I have one arm.”
‘Otherwise it’s second nature to me, and I think if you look into it too much, you won’t get anywhere. No one I play with will give me a break because I have one arm. Everyone out here is competitive and they still want to beat me,’ he said.
Schuhknecht’s goal is to become the first disabled golfer to compete on the Sunshine Tour, but he knows how tough it is to get through five rounds of Qualifying School in Bloemfontein, let alone succeed on tour.
He is friends with professionals Otto van Greunen and Russell Franz, who compete on the local circuit, and has watched their struggles and learned from them.
Schuhknecht is nicknamed ‘Rhino’, which suits his stature and determination. Like all golfers he has parts of his game that need work, but he can drive the ball over 300 yards and takes the correct approach to professional golf.
He was ambidextrous as a youngster and that certainly helped him adjust to using his left hand, but there is no substitute for hard work.
‘I’m naturally right-handed, but luckily I’ve been good with both hands from a young age. Unfortunately there’s no rehab to make me putt better!’ he laughs.
‘My short game is my strongest point, and lately I’ve been struggling off the tee, so I need to work on that,’ he adds. ‘I carry my own bag, unless my brother is available, and I eat, sleep, and repeat golf. Golf, golf, golf.’
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