Golf, as we all know, can be a fickle old pursuit. One minute you are striding down the fairway with a chest puffed out like a gorilla at the height of the mating season after clattering a corker right down the middle.
The next, you are groaning like said ape who has just been condemned to a lifetime of celibacy after discovering your best drive of the season has nestled in a divot.
As Jack Nicklaus once observed, “golf is not, and never has been, a fair game”.
It is just like life itself. David Burns will probably agree with that. Not so long ago, the Linlithgow swing guru was riding the crest of a coaching wave. His main clients were Robert MacIntyre and Calum Hill, two of Scotland’s brightest DP World Tour stars.
“They were both flying and everything was going great,” he said.
Life was, indeed, good. And then a couple of spanners were flung into the works. Complications from an insect bite, which befuddled the medical experts, led to Hill being sidelined for almost a year while MacIntyre decided to end his working relationship with Burns after last season’s PGA Championship.
There would be far greater tumult for Burns to contend with, however.
“I’d been struggling with my breathing and it was getting worse and worse,” he said. “I eventually got a chest X-ray. I was expecting a lung infection. But the reason I was struggling for air was that the diaphragm was squeezing the lung.
“It meant nothing to me. Then they hit me with the big one. They had found a tumor the size of a tennis ball on my kidney which was squeezing on the diaphragm which was squeezing on the lung. They told me it was malignant. The tumor and the kidney had to come out ASAP. It was a hell of a shock. It never crossed my mind it would be cancer. It turned my life upside down. Some days I faced up to it and accepted it, other days I was asking, ‘why me?’.”
After a major operation in November, Burns’ rehabilitation process was aided by vast doses of morphine and hours in front of the TV watching football’s World Cup. Well, he thinks it was the World Cup.
“I had so much morphine in me I couldn’t remember what matches I was watching,” he said. “I was told the pain would be severe but I underestimated how sore it would be. You moved an inch and it was like being stabbed. I have a scar about seven inches long. The speedo modeling contract has gone out of the window now.”
Hill, who was making his own tentative steps back to full fitness, also played a major role in Burns’ convalescence.
“I was going off my head in the house and I would see Calum a couple of days a week at Gleneagles to do some work,” he said. “That gave me a purpose. He would visit all the time too. It meant a lot to me.”
— davidburnsgolf (@davidburnsgolf) July 10, 2021
Returning to the hustle and bustle of the DP World Tour driving range in the Middle East recently was another sizeable step in Burns’ recovery.
“I was nervous as hell and my wife came with me to hold my hand,” he said. “But what a welcome I got. It felt like I’d never been away.”
While last year’s split with MacIntyre was amicable, it was still such a sore one to stomach even that morphine would not have dulled the pain.
“You have such a close relationship and then suddenly it’s over,” said Burns of an alliance that had brought plenty of rewards. “It was hard for a couple of months after. He was a big part of my life for a number of years. But it’s the nature of this job. It’s like being a football manager. You need a thick skin. We had great times together. He got a Tour win, two top 10s in The Open, a 12th in the Masters. We can both look back on that period with a hell of a lot of pride.”
It is now onwards and upwards. With Hill, a tour winner in 2021, now eager to make up lost ground, Burns is confident that those good golfing times will roll again.
“Calum’s technically very good and he has a very exciting future ahead of him,” he said.
“Hopefully I’m part of it.”