Ash Turner’s journey with cerebral palsy to Open Championship debut

Posted at 12:59 PM, Jul 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-20 12:59:02-04

He fractured his skull after falling into a fish tank as a toddler, and had to wear a crash helmet at school as a result of his cerebral palsy, but Ash Turner ticked off a childhood dream when he made his Open debut at Carnoustie.

The 22-year-old Englishmen was diagnosed with ataxia, a rare form of cerebral palsy, when he took the tumble at the age of one. The disease affected his coordination and balance and he couldn’t put his heel down when he tried to walk.

There was a chance he’d never walk properly, but now Turner is a fledgling golf pro playing on the game’s biggest stage this week.

“Mom and dad always knew I struggled with my balance a little bit, but when you’re young people start walking at different stages. Then I toppled into the corner of a fish tank and I fractured my skull and it was found I’d got ataxia,” Turner told CNN at Carnoustie Friday.

“The doctors said physio would help me put my heel on the floor properly and help me to balance but there would be a high chance I wouldn’t be able to walk properly.”

His dad Simon had been a keen golfer and thought it would offer a less strenuous form of exercise to the intensive bouts of physio and bought Turner some plastic clubs when he was two and a half.

“I started practicing golf for my balance, but I loved it,” he added.

But it wasn’t an instant fix, and for his first three years at school, Turner had to wear a crash helmet as a precaution against falls.

“I used to walk to my toes so I couldn’t actually put my heel on the floor when I was walking,” he said.

“The problem was when I did fall over I didn’t put my hands down either so I had to wear the crash helmet. All the kids were fine with it. Outside of he crash helmet and not being able to balance great I was a normal kid and they treated me like that.”

Turner was cleared of his ataxia at the age of about six, but he says the disease is still with him and “will always be a part of me,” it’s just not noticeable any more.

He began taking golf seriously from the age of 11, and was good enough to progress quickly through the amateur ranks.

He made the England set up at 15 and played in various national squads and is now plying his trade on the EuroPro Tour, a developmental circuit several rungs below the European Tour.

Last week he finished 10th in the Clipper Logistics Championship, earning £800, minus the £295 entrance fee.

In seven events this season he was won £2,700 and says financially it’s a “struggle.”

‘My heart rate got quicker’

He got into the Open by winning Final Qualifying at Hollinwell and played three practice rounds with countryman Tyrrell Hatton, the world No. 23, at Carnoustie.

But nothing could prepare him for the rush of hitting his first competitive shot in an Open Championship.

“In practice I’d been OK, and I walked onto the first tee and looked at the crowd and sort of zoned out, I was nowhere near as nervous as I thought I’d be, which took me by surprise,” he said.

“I was last [of my group] to tee off and my heart rate got quicker and quicker and by the time I teed off I was very, very nervous.

“I took a deep breath as I was lining the shot up, and I tried to put everything out of my mind but I swear the head of my four iron was getting smaller and smaller as I kept looking down at it. But it was awesome and I hit a nice tee shot.”

Turner carded a six-over 78, which he was slightly disappointed with, but said it was a “fantastic” experience. “It’s a dream come true,” he said. “It’s everyone’s goal in golf to play a major at some point and so that’s one of my life goals ticked off.”

Turner hasn’t got to meet Tiger Woods, but has been practising near him, which he says is “weird.”

“He’s one of those people you grow up watching, especially with the generation I’m in,” he says. “He was in his prime and winning majors and to be practising two bays down from him is unbelievable.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to play with him.”

For now, Turner will return to the EuroPro Tour and try to get through the punishing European Tour qualifying school at the end of the year.

It’s a long road to the top, but Turner is now walking tall.