EDGA, the international body for disability golf, shares the story of Dutch player Daphne van Houten, who found out she had scoliosis when she was 12-years-old

As we all know, golf is a precise game, one in which a single degree can make a huge difference. Just a one-degree deviation of the clubface at the point of impact can result in the ball finding the trees rather than the fairway. 

For Daphne van Houten, a single degree would have made little difference to the way her spine functioned. Most people have a spine that is positioned between 0° and 10° from vertical, so when she found she had scoliosis and her spine was at 52° it was time to do something about it.

A diagnosis that came as a surprise

Daphne, born in the University town of Utrecht in the Netherlands, had started to play golf when just six-years-old with her parents Henk and Monique, but golf was not everything in her life. Handball was the sport she excelled in but sport, of any kind, was fun. 

At 12-years-old all children are required by law to attend a physical screening. It was at this screening that Daphne and her parents found out that she had scoliosis, her back was not straight, and that her love of playing handball would have to stop. Daphne explains:

“I went to the hospital, got it x-rayed and that is when we found out.

“When you jump and land then your spine will compress, and I knew that because of that my back was getting worse.”

Playing golf with scoliosis

Daphne chose to play golf as she could not find it in herself to give up both sports at the same time. At first she did not notice any difference in her back but after only a few months it was clear that she needed to take action to stop the spine from getting even worse.

Reducing the scoliosis

Together with her father Henk, they decided not to have an operation until she had finished growing, so she went into therapy in Germany.

“It was an intern therapy where I did exercise from eight o’clock in the morning until six o’clock in the evening,” recalls Daphne.

She fully embraced the programme with Katharina Schroth, and reduced the scoliosis of her spine from 50° to 37° which was an excellent return on her investment of time. Unfortunately, this was not going to be a long term solution due to having to complete the exercises everyday. So, when she turned 17, she decided it was better to have an operation.

Making the decision to have an operation

Life has a way of preparing people for the key moments. Daphne recalls the time around her operation:

“I was thinking a lot about the negative things in my operation, but there are also a lot of positive things. I just needed to focus on those. If I didn’t have the operation, I wouldn’t even be able to walk by the time I was thirty. Maybe I would only lie in bed.” 

With such a complicated operation there was plenty of opportunity for something to go wrong. Intuitively Daphne realised:

“I knew that it was better to do the operation, because I was in a lot of pain before.”

The operation lasted for almost eight hours during which time the surgeons built a scaffold for the spine that would support it by using pins, plates, bolts and screws.

A quick recovery

After the operation Daphne was told that she would have to stay in hospital for a week, but she hated hospitals and did everything she could to get out! She was told that she needed to climb the stairs before she would be free to go home. This was just the motivation that Daphne needed, and only four days later she went home. It seems that home healing was good for Daphne, as just two weeks later she was once again making a few half swings and hitting shots.

The recovery was quick but Daphne has pain on a daily basis. She explains:

“You just get used to it. I don’t take painkillers anymore because I [would] have to take them always, and it's not good for you. But it’s routine - you get used to it.”

Back to golf and the future for Daphne

In 2018 Daphne became the European Golf Association's Champion Women Golfer with Disability, winning the title at her first attempt.

“When I got home I got compliments from everyone, and that is when I started to notice what I did,” says a slightly surprised Daphne, who only the year before had taken a break from golf when she stopped enjoying the game.

Daphne had the goal of playing on Tour, but today she recognises this may now be out of her reach. Her thirst to be involved in the game, however, is far from being quenched. She has given golf lessons to little children and found that she really enjoyed doing so. 

Plan A, Plan B or Plan C, who knows what the future will hold for Daphne van Houten. A small adjustment in her current direction by just a degree or two could perhaps see Daphne taking a role in sports management or professional golf. In any case, Daphne will step confidently into the future with the knowledge that some of life’s big decisions are already behind her.

You can read more about Daphne and more inspiring stories from the EDGA players at www.edgagolf.com.

Words by Tony Bennett.