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Golf a bonus after life-changing ordeal

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A different Derek Gillespie returned to the Players Cup this year.

The Oshawa, Ont., native, has played well at Pine Ridge before, second in 2007 and tied for sixth in 2009.

Playing at all now is a bonus.

In April 2011, he was sleeping in the back seat with two friends as they drove back from Las Vegas to his adopted home in Phoenix. The driver fell asleep at the wheel and result was an SUV that flipped several times off the interstate.

Gillespie was thrown clear of the vehicle but wound up with a broken leg, five broken ribs and a punctured lung, and a long stint in an Arizona hospital.

"I think once the doctor said you’ll be OK eventually, even though I didn’t know when that was going to be... I thought I’d give golf a shot again," Gillespie said after finishing two days at the Players Cup at Pine Ridge at three-under-par 139. He’s easily into the weekend. "The first couple of days I could remember, golf was probably not in my future.

"I just realized how much I loved the game. I don’t know if it’s called pissing away my ability but I knew I could play golf and it would be a shame if I didn’t give it 110 per cent looking back when I was 50."

A phenomenal amateur player and successful in college days at the University of Arizona, Gillespie has two Canadian Tour wins but has never been able to advance higher.

He said his re-dedication to his career had begun before his life-changing accident.

"I missed the first stage a couple of years ago and I finally caved and called a sports psychologist (Dr. Doug Smith of Oshawa)," he said. "I always thought I had enough talent.

"I went back to Arizona, won a couple of small events, then the accident happened. I think the real progress started before that.

"He’s helped me through a lot. I started working hard on other things I had not been doing. It’s pretty amazing. You always hear 90 per cent mental — golf. I always went, ‘right. If you’re hitting it good you’re hitting it good.’ I think it’s pretty true."

Gillespie was able to return to the CanTour schedule late last year and make three cuts.

He’s been a factor in 2012 — and may be again this week — with a fourth and seventh already. Last weekend in Saskatoon, he went 62-72 on the weekend, so even with his late stumble Friday, a double-bogey at the par-3 16th, he’s a threat this weekend.

 ———

Three Manitobans made the cut this week, the best showing in years, led by Pine Ridge member and tour member Tyler Mancini.

It’s his second made cut of the year and he starts today at three-under after an even-par round of 71 on Friday.

"A weight off my shoulders," Mancini said. "I was more nervous today. I really want to do well here. Sometimes it’s easy to put too much pressure on yourself."

Also in are former champion and three-time Can Tour winner Rob McMillan, now a local golf rep, and amateur Josh Wytinck of Pine Ridge.

Scott Loewen, also a tour member, missed the even-par cut by one shot.

"Towards the end I was definitely feeling the pressure," Wytinck said. "I was showing a little more emotion that I usually do. I don’t usually show much. I was getting pretty worried, I wanted to make it pretty bad.

"I’m pretty proud of myself. I’d eventually like to play on the Canadian Tour so it’s nice to see where I stack up against everybody else."

McMillan, who also made it to the weekend last year, last contended here in 2008, when he finished tied for ninth.

He finished his round Friday with a birdie on No. 18 and the McMillan fist pump.

"I think (Saturday) will be big," he said. "If I could go out there and make a bunch of birdies early, then maybe you start going, ‘Hmmm, maybe I can do that again.’"

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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