WHEN the opening shots of the new Lancashire county golf season unfold next month, no-one will be more relieved than Michael Hunt.
The experienced Red Rose county player had to write off the whole of last season after a fall at home left him with a shattered shoulder.
There were times during the long rehabilitation when Hunt, who has 76 Lancashire caps to his name, feared his top-level golfing career may be over.
But his desire and pride in representing his county allied to a love of golf means the 38-year-old’s name once again appears in the Lancashire ranks, this time for the traditional curtain-raiser to the new season.
The annual fixture between the Red Rose county and a team from the Southport and District Golf Association takes place on April 2 at Formby Golf Club.
Hunt, who plays out of Pleasington Golf Club and lives in Burnley, is delighted to be back – but is taking nothing for granted about whether he will be picked to chase down his dream of reaching the century of county appearances.
“Players have come in while I have been out and done well,” he said, “so I am under no illusions that I have got a fight on my hands to win back my place.
“But I love playing for Lancashire – to think of how many clubs there are, how many good players there are and to think I am one of the 12 who pulls on that county shirt is a source of real pride for me.
“It would be great if myself and John Carroll, who also has 76 caps, could go on and reach 100 together. But I know I have got to prove myself worth a place all over again as early in the season as possible and hopefully they will find a slot for me.”
Hunt was heading out for a friendly game of golf with former Lancashire teammate Tommy Fleetwood, now a two-time winner on the European Tour, when he fell down the stairs, thinking at first that he had merely dislocated his shoulder.
But, in fact, he had smashed the inside of his shoulder socket as well as damaging ligaments – and found himself undergoing a five-hour operation to put things right.
“It is a bit like a pig in a blanket now,” he says, “as the surgeon, Dr. Marynissen, had to wrap muscle round the joints to make sure they would work smoothly in the future. I couldn’t do anything at all for the first six to eight weeks and it was very painful, but the surgeon and the team have done a great job. I have stuck to the physio plan and done the work that was needed – and it has paid off. I am really looking forward to playing again at Formby.”
He admits he has had to be patient while the healing process took its time.
“I decided there was no point rushing things and not coming back 100 per cent right,” added Hunt. “To have perhaps gained the odd game of golf but risked longer term damage did not seem worth it to me.
“There was a time when I was taking umpteen morphine tablets a day and I could not even lift a coffee cup to my lips – but I am not one for giving up. I would always have found a way to get the golf ball round – even if it meant playing one-handed or as a leftie!”
Hunt – a landscape gardener and tree surgeon by trade – is grateful to Pleasington for providing him with work during the rehabilitation process which kept him off the golf course and unable to carry on his business.
He also enjoyed time with son Freddie, who at the age of six is already showing his dad’s love of golf, as he started to combine time in the gym with a gradual rebuilding of his golfing skills with the help of Damien Taylor, who has pupils who play on the professional Tours, and Steve Hamer, the new professional at Pleasington.
“I’ve had to work on getting the muscle in the arm back as well as building up to making a full swing again,” added Hunt. “I suppose there were times, when I couldn’t even lift the TV remote, that you wonder whether you are going to make it back – but to be honest, that was not an option for me!
“Now I am looking forward to getting back out on the golf course and enjoying every minute of it.”
Lancashire County Captain Paul Williams is delighted to welcome Michael back into the fold.
He said: “Michael has strong characteristics which came through during his recovery time. He always delivers positive energy to the team and it is great to see him back playing and playing well.”