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Amateur Playing Just Three Months After Open Heart Surgery

By Andrew Robinton, USGA

Toledo, Ohio – Michael Bell, an amateur from Indianapolis, watched in earnest as his tee shot on the final hole of his Tuesday practice round sailed left into 5-inch rough some 150 yards from the green.

Undeterred by the imperfect lie, Bell made a wager with a gallery member that he could still reach the green. Some odds-makers might put his chances at 10-to-1. Sure enough, his Tiger Woods-like whack out of the gnarly grass landed 20 yards short of the putting surface before rolling toward the flagstick, stopping just a foot from the hole. Bell had overcome his self-placed odds and won this bet.

But not many people know that Bell has already beaten greater odds three months before arriving at Inverness Club for this week’s U.S. Senior Open.

On March 13, he underwent double-bypass open-heart surgery after feeling chest pains during a vacation in Florida. He learned that his left artery was 99 percent blocked. Doctors told him it would take 10 weeks before the 56 year old could engage in any physical activity.

 
With a new lease on life, Michael Bell, firing out of a bunker during a Wednesday practice round, is just happy to be living. (John Mummert/USGA)

Still, a few weeks after the successful operation, Bell started practice putting even though his breastbone wasn’t fully healed. And despite the cautious advice from his physician that he give up competitive golf, Bell decided on a whim to fill out an online entry form for the Senior Open.

In his first post-surgery competitive round, Bell, a scratch player who currently serves as the president of the Indiana Golf Association, not only played well, but qualified for the Senior Open at the French Lick, Ind., sectional. Bell later described his 69 to beat out 40 other hopefuls as a "miracle."

Patients who undergo open-heart surgery typically require anywhere from four to eight weeks to recover from the symptoms accompanying the procedure such as disorientation, insomnia and depression. Just regaining the strength to accomplish everyday chores often takes months. Even Bell felt dizzy and weak in the days following the operation. He then returned to his Sarasota, Fla., home to recuperate. Golf was the last thing on his mind.

"Oh, the pain," he said. "They basically open you up here (pointing to the breastbone) and break you in half. Then they basically wire you back together and you heal from there."

The weeks of rest and healing certainly tested Bell’s patience. It hurt to cough and sneeze and he was forced to sleep on a lounge chair given to him by his friend Carlton Fisk, the Hall of Fame baseball great. As the weeks passed and his energy improved, Bell started thinking about golf. It started with him putting in early April and then progressed to chipping. By May 1, he was making full swings again. Still, Bell had to make some minor adjustments to his swing. Translated: he had to swing with less force.

"My swing is different because my whole body is different," said Bell.

Then again, Bell’s outlook on life has undergone a metamorphosis as well. The man who lost his own father to a heart attack has a new perspective on life.

"Golf and life are the same to me. There are ups and downs," he said. "Five-foot putts mean very little now, though."

Bell commences his second Senior Open on Thursday at 12:40 p.m. His threesome includes two other sectional qualifiers, Paul Parajeckas of Woburn, Mass., and Will Sowles, of Collierville, Tenn. Bell’s 28-year-old son, Trent, will serve as his caddie but his gallery also will include wife Trish.

And although virtually all of the 25,000 fans expected to attend each of the championship’s four rounds likely won’t recognize Bell, that will be insignificant. Whether he makes the cut or not, deep inside his newly mended heart is the knowledge that just being here is a victory.

Andrew Robinton is the media relations summer intern. He can be reached at arobinton@usga.org.



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