The one-legged Spanish scratch marker Juan Postigo impressed everyone from kids to experienced Tour pros during his appearances in Australia late last year. But his story is even more remarkable than his beautiful golf swing.
Golf is a game that tests patience and resilience. The best drive of your life can find a sand-filled divot, or a ball can roll off a green into a bunker and an un-raked footprint. And it is the players able to deal with this frustrating element of the game without losing their cool that thrive.
So it perhaps comes as no surprise that from the mental side, someone like Juan Postigo, who has had to overcome so many hurdles in his life, has become such an impressive golfer.
Once you consider the 23-year-old doesn’t have a right leg, his achievements in the game become almost unbelievable. But as Postigo always says, it is the only life and way to play golf he has ever known.
Born without a knee and multiple missing bones in his right leg, Postigo spent his early life on a prosthetic limb. The young Spaniard, from the same region as Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal, was introduced to golf by his retired grandfather more than 10 years ago.
RIGHT: Postigo is a four-time Spanish Disabled Champion with plenty of natural ability. PHOTO: Getty Images.
Postigo became a good player on his prosthesis, getting his handicap down to four. But the suggestion of doctors to amputate more of his right leg to improve his quality of life proved unsuccessful.
“I used to wear a prosthetic on my right leg, but I didn’t walk very well, so about eight years ago they just asked me to amputate that side to start walking better,” Postigo exclusively told Golf Australia magazine. “But they touched a nerve during the operation, so anything that touch me now, the stump is really painful, so I don’t wear any prosthetic now.
“Too much pain to wear a prosthetic, anything just touching me there just a little tiny fraction causes pain. It’s phantom pain, it is neuropathic pain, it’s strange.”
After the operation, Postigo was understandably a frustrated and upset young man. A period of time passed lying in a hospital bed thinking of what would come next before he eventually decided it was time to try golf again, this time on one leg and aided by crutches to walk between shots.
Returning to his coach in Spain, Postigo indicated his desire to return to the game he loved ... Something his coach was keen to embark on together, but only once they moved from the top storey of the two-level driving range to the bottom floor in case of any stability issues.
The four-time Spanish Disabled Champion’s natural ability and strength truly showed itself once he began playing without his prosthetic. Despite nearly every golfer trying to swing on one leg losing balance and nearly falling over, completely losing his balance is something Postigo cannot remember ever happening during his return. And the drastic change in his body may have even helped his game.
RIGHT: Postigo in full flight during the Andalucia Masters Pro-Am. PHOTO: Getty Images.
“I never fall over because my coach at the time said to me, ‘Juan this is a new game we are going to play so you have to only make the swing that your body is powerful enough to hold it’,” Postigo said. “So we started that way, hitting a 7-iron 100 metres and now I hit it 150, so the work that has been done has been really, really cool.
“I feel more free and I feel like I can play many more kind of shots that I couldn’t play before, like I can use more of my whole body.”
Unable to hit too many balls each day due to the fatigue of being on only one leg, Juan spends more time in the gym strengthening his body to be able to repeat his golf swing more regularly and with greater power.
But to watch Postigo unleash on his driver that travels over 250 metres and the outstanding positions in his swing, you would think he has spent an inordinate amount of time refining
“My swing is really natural. I haven’t worked much on technique, I don’t really like techniques,” Postigo says simply of his action. “So, everything that happens in my swing is natural, it is improving by the strength work in the gym, but we are not focused on the hip turn or the arms or angle of attack. We are just trying to get the feelings good and the swing has been what it is all along. So, if you like it you like, if not, I’m sorry but it works.”
The natural movement into the ball is just one of the enviable traits the handsome, well-spoken young man possesses. And his golf swing caught the eye of plenty of Tour professionals during the all-abilities tournaments played alongside the main field events in Australia last year.
On the eve of the Australian Open, Postigo had the eyes of every tournament player fixed on him as he smashed drive after drive straight and long on The Lakes practise range. Former FedExCup winner Brandt Snedeker stopped his own practise session to video his swing.
“He absolutely flushes it, and playing off scratch ... Makes me realise I need to quit bitchin’ about my golf game a little bit.” – Brand Snedeker
“It’s unbelievable. I’ve seen some people play before with prosthetics but not taking the prosthetics off and swinging one-footed ... Especially as balanced as he is, he absolutely flushes it, and playing off scratch ... Makes me realise I need to quit bitchin’ about my golf game a little bit,” Snedeker said.
“I guess it’s just necessity, you know growing with one you figure out how to do it ... Really impressed with watching him, he’s got a beautiful swing, really fluid, you can tell he’s got really good hands.”
Another of the players to take notice was Ian Poulter, who did similarly to Snedeker during the World Cup of Golf at Metropolitan, chatting with Postigo and filming his swing.
“I know that I am making a good golf swing and I know what I am doing is special, but when a Tour guy, or Ian Poulter a Ryder Cup player, or Brandt Snedeker, a FedExCup champion, stop to watch it is even bigger than what you think you are. It makes you feel much special or much better than you think you are,” Postigo said.
Postigo’s fluid golf swing also impressed Aussie Anthony Quayle during the Australia Open who, alongside Golf Australia’s media manager Mark Hayes, played a hole on one leg with him. Quayle describing Postigo’s ability as “an inspiration and a credit to him”. But to watch the two-time European Disabled Champion go to work around the greens is even more special – his ‘Spanish hands’ producing a variety and quality of short game shots that rival the best players in the world.
“Magical, I’m Spanish, what can you expect,” Postigo jokes when asked of the quality of his short game.
Indeed, his positive mindset and confidence are among some of Postigo’s finest attributes as a tournament golfer and unquestionably have helped him push through difficult times.
Just last year his close childhood friend Celia Barquin was murdered while practicing on a golf course in Iowa where she played college golf. Postigo now always wears a yellow ribbon and carries a specially designed golf bag to honour the girl he grew up playing junior golf with.
“We are the ones who have to keep the legacy going, so she is never forgotten. And just thinking of her a lot these days, and being in touch with her parents and family, so it is pretty special to play for her and I’m sure wherever she is, she’s watching and pushing us a little bit more,” he says of Barquin.
Postigo has taken only a handful of swings in 2019 as he recovers from an operation to fix an issue with his prosthetic hip. The time away from golf has seen him drop to No.7 in the world disabled rankings that were announced in Australia last year, but his deserved cockiness regarding his game has not diminished.
“Many of you are asking about my recovery ... I’ll need five more weeks at least to be able to start training again. But don’t worry, this swing is unforgettable!!” Postigo recently posted on Twitter alongside a video of him hitting balls at The Lakes.
The events in Australia in late 2018 were the first of their kind around the world and are a credit to organising body Golf Australia and its Inclusion Senior Manager Christian Hamilton, who pioneered the idea.
Having played the biggest disabled events in Europe and spending the rest of his time spreading the word on disabled golf throughout the continent and into South America, Postigo is extremely thankful for his opportunity in this country.
“In Sydney, a couple of people stopped me in the street and the same in Melbourne, so it is great to see that with a game like golf you can make people think about some different things they do in life,” he said. “So, if we can do that by playing the game of golf it is the best news you can have and the crowds on the golf course have been awesome. Nothing I can say about them, I really appreciate it.”
“For me, as a Spanish athlete I would love to represent my country at the Paralympics.” – Juan Postigo
For his part, Postigo sees the events in Australia as only the beginning. He believes his ability and hard work can take him to the same level as the professionals who watched his game in awe.
“If these guys need 20 years, I will need 30. But I can do it,” he says.
And while the prospect of a major championship following the blueprint set out by Hamilton and Golf Australia excites him, it is another stage Postigo has his eye on.
“I think the Olympics is the biggest achievement for an athlete. For me, as a Spanish athlete I would love to represent my country at the Paralympics. I think that it would be the best highlight you could have from your career,” said Postigo, who will have to wait until at least 2028 as golf failed to receive admission into the 2024 Paralympic games.
Despite the long wait to potentially reach the pinnacle of his career, Postigo won’t be disheartened. He will continue to work on his game and surely amass more international titles as he makes his return to the game from his most recent setback. His hopping from one putt to the next rather than utilising his crutches exemplifies the internal and external strength of the bubbly Spaniard with a magnificent outlook on both the game of golf and life.
“It’s just me, I don’t know how to tie both my shoes, I just tie one,” Postigo joked with Quayle in a video produced by Golf Australia. “This is just my life and this is what I enjoy doing. I love what I do, and I try to do it as well as I can. For me it is nothing different.”