There has to be something inherently weird about a sport in which a single tournament can capture our attention for the preceding week, or month, or year, and takes four days to separate one champion, contains probably around five total minutes of actual physical execution for any one competitor.
Golf is a game, like all sports, in which you’re ultimately judged on your results. You might have lots of other attributes – some of which may earn you money and fans and acclaim in their own right – but it is your score that is recorded each and every time you tee up. As a professional golfer, it is your score, that for a large chunk of your life, may well define it.
Despite you only being in physical control of that for seconds at a time.
That’s not a lot of time to create something that often dictates your self-worth.
Being a professional golfer, or athlete, by its nature is a full-time job. Every single thing you do outside of those split seconds of physical execution can influence the outcome of them. Golf is problematically addicting because there are so many facets – and as a sport where competition contains so much time spent not actually ‘doing’, there is a case for almost anything and everything you do in your life being a potential performance help, or hindrance.
If you commit to 6am workouts at the start of every day in an effort to gain strength and speed to hit the ball further off the tee, you should gain clubhead speed and thus improve your stroke average.
But you might end up with a two way miss that undermines what was your biggest strength.
If you save up for years to buy a Trackman so you can monitor your technical tendencies on a more regular basis during the season, you should become a more consistent player.
But you might end up unpicking a swing that worked because one idiosyncrasy complemented another.
If you visit a world-class short game coach in an effort to increase your repertoire of shots to fit more golf courses, you should be able to lessen those rounds in the mid-70s that keep derailing your chances.
But you might lose the unquestioning confidence that you had in your existing skillset.
If you commit to half an hour every day of using a putting mirror and a 50mm gate with 0.6 degrees of error to ensure you’re starting the ball on line, you should become a better putter.
But you might end up with the yips because of neurological processes far too complicated to understand.
If you work on mindfulness and decluttering and allowing yourself to “just f***ing get on with it”, you should have less stress and more enjoyment; an ability to be freer on every shot.
But you might lose the sharpness that set you apart to begin with.
Golf is an over-thinker’s paradise, as well as their purgatory. The overlapping elements of physical and technical and mental mean it is almost impossible to quantify each decision you make in isolation. I walked down a fairway in the second round of the Scandinavian Mixed, missing a cut more comfortably than Newcastle’s descent into a relegation battle, fighting flickers of inadequacy that asked me if I’d been in denial for two years about my own potential. Two days later I was playing 9 holes in the evening sunshine at my home course in the UK, a contented confidence burning through my next-tournament-preparation thoughts.
I think I’ll be forever addicted to straddling those two worlds. But I’m incredibly lucky to have people around me that force me to acknowledge the dangers of being in my own head while I do that too.
There are some things that I can only speak for myself on. But from what I can tell, professional sport – particularly in COVID times – can be conflicting for introverts and extroverts alike. No one is trying to dismiss the privilege of getting to travel the world at a time when most can’t, playing a ‘game’ for a living, with the potential to earn millions at a young age. But mental health is real.
There are a spectrum of issues that can affect people, and I don’t pretend for a second to understand what it can be like to suffer severely or clinically or to need to seek professional assistance. But along that spectrum there are degrees of loneliness, of frustration, of anxiety and of depression. And any human being can be suffering, whether you pay money to watch them on tv or not.