American golfer Heath Slocum won't let a debilitating disease dent his belief he can return to the top of the sport.
Slocum, who has enjoyed seven professional wins including four on the PGA Tour, is playing in next week's ISPS Handa New Zealand Open after competing in the NZPGA in Palmerston North this week.
The 43-year-old suffers from ulcerative colitis which has twice seen him forced to take significant breaks from the game. Although he will carry the illness with him for the rest of his life, Slocum is unwavering in his belief that given good health, he has the game to return to the top.
Having begun playing again late last year, and without any playing privileges on the PGA Tour, Slocum jumped at the opportunity to play tournaments in New Zealand.
Slocum was born to play golf, with his father a successful club professional in rural Louisiana on a nine-hole course. He had a club in his hand as soon as he could walk, and mowed the fairways when he was 12.
Slocum emerged in golf in high school, with close friend and PGA professional Boo Weekley, going on to become a three-time All-American for South Alabama University.
From there, Slocum gained entry into the Nike Tour (now Web.com), but in the back half of the year, he knew something was wrong.
"Ironically it was Thanksgiving Day, November 1999. I was in pain and lacking in all energy."
The prognosis was an inflammation of the colon.
What did that mean? Slocum would visit the toilet up to 40 times a day. He lost 12kg off his already slight 70kg frame. He couldn't eat and was given intravenous injections twice a week to keep him alive.
"I would basically live in the bathroom. Then one day, I woke up and did not have to go to the toilet. It was the same next day."
Throughout his trials and tribulations, Slocum has worked tirelessly for the disease that he suffers from, as a national spokesman for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, a charity to which he has also contributed significantly.
"I receive so many letters and emails from people who just want to talk about it and some of their horror stories. I've always been open to telling my story. It is a very debilitating disease which you carry with you throughout your life."
A further year on, Slocum had recovered full health.
"When I recovered, it was with a renewed vigour for golf. I practised non-stop. I was not negative at all. You know I had two younger sisters and I thought it was better me with this disease than them. I remained really positive and with a great attitude."
He made it on to the then-Nationwide Tour in 2001, winning three times and later that year advanced to the PGA Tour. For the next 12 years, he remained on the PGA Tour, winning at the Chrysler Classic in 2004, the Barclays in 2009 and the McGladrey Classic in 2010. He qualified for the players for the first six years straight in the Fed Ex Cup and pushed into the world's top 50.
Then in 2014, his health issues arose again, but rather than rest, he decided to fight his way through it.
"I was hard-headed but I should have taken time out."
He tried to play on as his playing privileges dried up, and he was forced to take time out.
Slocum has now recovered his health yet again and is able to practice and play.
He has heard much about Queenstown and is looking forward to the golf and the experience.
This time, he is not putting any pressure on his future.
"I've learned through this process not to put on an expectation or a timetable, but to be in every day and enjoy it. I am trying to be one per cent better every day. I've been through enough to realise this."
Slocum still has an inner belief about his future.
"I know if I am able to put in the work and get the opportunity, then with my ability and game, I will get back. I've seen changes in the golf ball and the clubs but it never affected me. My game is based on accuracy and a good short game and I don't mind putting my nose in to the competition.
"I will stick to what I do well. I truly love the game and the competition."