There are two driving forces in Michael Hendry’s fight to beat leukaemia; his family and the spot in this week’s Open Championship that was cruelly denied.

A runner-up finish at the World City Championship in Hong Kong in late March secured Hendry qualification for the 151st Open at Royal Liverpool as part of the R&A’s Open Qualifying Series.

The 43-year-old New Zealander was one of 13 Australasian players to earn a place in golf’s most feted major championship, yet in a heartbreaking Instagram post on May 15, he announced publicly for the first time that he had withdrawn after being diagnosed with leukaemia.

For Hendry, the symbol of the player’s badge that he should be wearing this week was an apt way in which to share his life-threatening news.

“I thought what better way to announce that I’m sick than by saying that I won’t be able to play the British Open because of it,” Hendry said ahead of tomorrow’s opening round.

“I thought that was a good way of going about it. Kind of showed that you can be on top of the world one day and in the trash the next.”

At the time, Hendry’s golf was as good as it had been since 2017 when he won the New Zealand Open and qualified for The Open for the first time. He won the Vic Open in February, was tied for sixth at the NZ Open, tied for fourth at the NZ PGA Championship, second in Hong Kong and then tied for 11th at the Token Homemate Cup in Japan.

It was at the Token Homemate tournament that symptoms of something worse than a cold started to emerge.

“From New South Wales Open on, I kind of felt like there was something going on – like I might have had a cold coming on,” Hendry recalls.

“Then in Japan two weeks later, every tee is elevated and I was finding that when I got to the tee I’d be blowing like crazy. I said to my caddie, ‘Man, I’m getting so unfit. I’ve got to start doing some more cardio.’

“The day I got back home to Auckland, I thought that the cold had finally hit or that I might have a decent bout of COVID. I just had no energy and was sick as a dog.

“I went to the doctor and he sent me to the hospital to get some tests and that’s when they found it. I didn’t go home that day.”

It would be six weeks before Hendry left the hospital at all.

‘It was difficult, it was scary’

As Hendry received the news that he had leukaemia, his wife Tara and their two daughters, Maddison, 8, and Harper, 5, were more than 1,000 kilometres away attending Tara’s cousin’s wedding in Christchurch.

Hendry waited until a few hours after the ceremony to tell Tara over the phone; he would wait until his daughters returned from a week of school holidays with their grandparents before sharing the news of what their family was suddenly facing.

“My concern wasn’t so much for me initially,” Hendry says. “Obviously, you want to live as long as you can, but I’ve been pretty fortunate. I’ve lived a pretty cool life and achieved a lot of things that I never thought I would.

“But the thing for me was always thinking about my daughters being so young; it’s not fair on them. That was the hardest thing, just not knowing what the future held for them in terms of whether I was going to be around.

“Because I was so sick, my blood levels were off the chart. I came pretty close to not seeing another day. It was difficult, it was scary, so many things happening at once.”

Given the state of his bloodwork, Hendry was initially hit with a large dose of generic chemotherapy until doctors could diagnose exactly the type of leukaemia that was ravaging his body. A week later, confirmation came through that it was Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, the same leukaemia that ultimately led to the passing of fellow golfer Jarrod Lyle.

Hendry played in the same group as Lyle and Michael Sim at the New Zealand Amateur Foursomes in 2004 and was devastated when the loveable larrikin passed away in 2018.

“I still remember shedding a few tears,” Hendry adds. “But it was not so much the fact that a friend of mine had died, it was thinking about his kids and his family. That was the emotional part of it.”

‘It was a very pleasant surprise’

In that initial six-week stint in hospital, Hendry lost 13 kilograms, the lack of taste as a result of the chemotherapy making even countless homemade meals provided by family and friends unpalatable.

The physical strength he possesses from his time as a cricketer and professional golfer has undoubtedly helped in how Hendry’s body has dealt with three rounds of chemotherapy to date, his fourth likely to come in early to mid-August.

Ever since his initial round of chemotherapy Hendry has made steady progress, including being told after that first cycle that he was technically in remission.

“To be honest with you, every piece of news I’ve received since my initial diagnosis about a week after being in hospital, every bit of news has been good,” says Hendry, who took to Instagram again on May 30 to share the news that he had been advised he was in “complete remission”.

“That was exciting news to receive, obviously, and that’s where you’re like, Yes, we’re going to get on top of this. We’re going to beat this.”

After his third cycle of chemotherapy just last week, Hendry was hopeful that a further test would reveal the complete absence of any leukaemic cells.

“I was really hoping for the all clear but just have to wait a little longer. I suppose it means that there’s no guarantees,” he reasons.

“I won’t be clear on the next steps, either. There again is the dark cloud just sort of sitting there, the sunshine trying to poke through but not quite getting through.”

‘It’s a very realistic goal’

Like his young family, golf is now Hendry’s primary motivator.

Ultimately, he wants to earn back the opportunity to play in the 2024 Open Championship at Royal Troon but knows it will start with far smaller steps.

He knocked it around in five-over at Te Arai Links two Sundays ago – complete with a PICC line still in his arm – and will probably use the Charles Tour in his homeland for his planned comeback to golf later this year.

His major goal is to play the ISPS Handa Australian Open at The Australian Golf Club in early December and intends for it to be anything but a ceremonial return to the game.

“It’s a very realistic goal, to be honest. It’s a realistic goal because I know what my situation is at the moment,” a positive Hendry says of his Australian Open aspirations.

“I never once thought about not playing golf again. I never once thought about giving it up. I want to be the guy that beat it. I want to be the guy that had this hurdle come up in a period of his career, got over it and came back.

“My goal, to be perfectly honest, is to come back better than I was. That might be difficult to do, but that’s my goal. I figure there’s no point in coming back as good as I was; I want to be better than I was.

“That keeps me motivated and keeps me, to be honest, pretty upbeat about the whole situation.”

As for this week’s Open, Hendry will find a comfy spot on the couch and cheer on his countrymen, Ryan Fox and Daniel Hillier, and his mates from the PGA Tour of Australasia.

“I’ll definitely watch it. I’ve got a couple of good mates playing in it, so always interesting to watch them and always interesting to watch the best guys in the world,” Hendry says.

“My emotions around the fact that I should be there… I would’ve loved to have played this year but my goal is to be there again.”