Some things seem to get clearer with age, and experience.
Others get more blurry.
I remember overhearing a pro golfer a couple of years ago describe the majority of our profession as “highly functioning depressives”, and without wanting to make light of real mental health issues, I don’t think it’s far off the mark. The customary asterisk fits here – a lot of professional golfers have a very privileged lifestyle, and I don’t take for granted for a second the fact I get to do what I love for a living. Regardless of how my writing comes across, I wouldn’t change it. But.
Hanging on to the vision is like trying to hang on to a cliff face sometimes.
I think when we’re a little younger, the pathway to where we want to go is almost more straightforward. Perhaps because our skills are less developed, perhaps because reality hasn’t yet cut scars through our ambition. Golf is captivating to those who play it because of its depth – there is always something to be better at. And even when you’re better at it, there are no guarantees. You can lose gains by doing the exact same things you did to make them. (Might be better if the younger players don’t read this). One thing I’m not sure fans always appreciate is the complexity of improvement, or even the complexity of maintenance. Over half of this year’s winning Solheim Cup team were different from the winning team of two years ago. I wasn’t a million miles away from making that 2019 team (I got what Billy Horschel didn’t), but I wouldn’t have been anywhere near this year’s team. But for all my second guessing, I know without doubt I’m a better player than I was then.
How would you measure progress in this sport?
Trophies? World ranking? Stroke average? What you consider your best to look like? What you consider your worst to look like? How much you feel you belong?
It’s not as straightforward as using a strokes gained measuring system. (For one thing, that’s still not actually possible in the women’s game).
Sometimes I think the better you get, the harder it is to stay on the right side of the “line”. The line between finding the zone and the effort it takes to do so. All professional golfers – all sportspeople, I assume – have an insatiable need to keep getting better. There is an almost perverse enjoyment of frustration – frustration leads you to the work; to the knowledge of what you need to do to be where you want to be. But the satisfaction of knowing why you’re not where you want to be is sometimes undercut by the actuality of not being where you want to be. And that burns through the Friday evening drives back to the hotel. That burns through the 5am alarms to get up for a round you don’t know how to gain from. That burns through the waiting – the stress of trying to decide whether resting or working is more beneficial; making both of them redundant anyway.
I hope Emma Raducanu treasures every moment of her astonishing win. She looks like she has all the attributes to embrace the world being at her feet. But she probably doesn’t have enough scars yet to truly comprehend what that means. Maybe that’s a good thing. The nature of sport – which is maybe what keeps all us addicts searching – means her path will change with every breath she takes. That’s more real than whatever the papers will tell you.