EDGA, the international body for disability golf, shares the story of Dutch player Marcella Neggers, who was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis when she was 11 years old
As a child Marcella had been a good hockey player, which is not surprising considering hockey is something of a national sport in her homeland of The Netherlands. Marcella’s painful wrist had started to interfere with her performance, and like most youngsters, she thought that it would be fine in the morning. But it wasn’t fine if anything the wrist was getting worse. "Perhaps a break or a sprain," said the Doctor.
After a few weeks in plaster Marcella excitedly went to the hospital to have the cast removed only to find that her wrist was no better. Days turned into weeks as the anticipated improvement didn't happen. It was during a visit to the Amsterdam Hospital that a specialist team decided perhaps this was not a bone-related problem, but rather a rheumatoid issue and she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).
From Hockey to Golf
Marcella was introduced to golf by her parents. They both played golf and thought that the similarities of hitting a ball with a stick would make the sport of interest to their daughter. Hockey was still running through her veins, and Marcella would take every opportunity to use the golf club like a hockey stick when her parents and coach were not watching. Eventually, she found a golf buddy Sander, and they started their golfing odyssey together. Marcella had begun her quest to be the best player in Holland.
RA affects people differently, and for Marcella the pain of the right wrist was severe, but it was the mental anguish of living with a disease that eventually would progress to both elbows and her shoulders that was the most significant factor. Marcella's dream of attending a sports college was effectively dashed as she realised that no longer could she take part in all the required sports. Her head was spinning, and it took time to come to terms with living a new life.
Becoming the best golfer she could be
Golf filled her heart and soul however, it became a driver as she grew up. She soon became fully committed to becoming the best player that she could be. It was a simple, important ambition for a girl who had suffered as her original sporting plan had been scrapped. From 15 years old, Marcella was part was of the national selection and she started winning and she never really stopped. First, it was the Dutch National Girls Championship when she was just 17, and the titles just kept coming. Marcella had been motivated by her coach to reach the heights of amateur golf, achieving a handicap of +2, while the promise of a necklace for success had also been an early motivation. Marcella still wears the necklace today.
Undergoing numerous surgeries
But it was the thought of being the number one player in Holland that kept her going through numerous surgeries. Each new surgery meant she would have to find a new way to play, a new way to deliver the club to the ball, with power, accuracy, and consistency. From time to time the surgeon would say that she should not play, "but there is always a way to play golf!” says Marcella.
Playing on the Ladies European Tour
With a locker full of national honours, including Dutch golfer of the year in 1995 and 1996, it was time to try her luck at the professional game. She gained a conditional card at the qualifying school, and so it was off to try her hand on the Ladies European Tour. "I didn't really like the life of the touring professional," says Marcella. "Being without my friends and away from home didn't feel good. I enjoyed the golf, and the travel was fine, but the loneliness was not so nice."
Realising a dream
The PGA of Holland training school beckoned, and it was there her new dream was first born - to become a National Coach for The Netherlands. Marcella worked diligently and was appointed to precisely that role for the golfers with disability team in 2017.
Marcella now supports the players and their coaches in regular training and helps them to become the best that they can. "Training is always competitive," she says, who gets together with the team regularly and accompanies them in many tournaments around Europe. A competitor through and through, Marcella thrives on pressure, loves the feeling of nerves and adrenaline that courses through her body when in competition. Who knows what she will do if she loses that competitive edge, but for now she is content with her life and enjoys pursuing the dream of going to the Paralympics either as a player or as a coach.
Marcella realises there are many opportunities ahead; there is lots to learn. So, like the 11-year-old Marcella on that stairway, she is still finding her way up the steps but confidently following her dreams. Whether she turns to the left or the right, she’ll get there, and many young and improving golfers in her care are sure to benefit.
You can read more about Marcella and more inspiring stories from the EDGA players at www.edgagolf.com.
Words by Tony Bennett.