There was another case of a player revealing his battle with depression at the Scandinavian Invitation. It's important we keep giving them a platform to speak out, writes Mark Townsend
The first time I came across James Morrison was at the Portugal Masters at Vilamoura half a dozen years ago when he tripped over the doorstep to the breakfast room, half stumbled into the room before regaining both his equilibrium and composure.
“That went well,” he announced, still giggling.
Around the room was a collection of bright young things, with their faces buried in both some fresh fruit and their yardage books, and order – by which I mean stony silence – was quickly restored.
I spent the rest of my breakfast, which didn’t contain any fresh fruit, observing Morrison. I like you, I thought to myself, I like you a lot.
A few years later I sat down with Morrison for an interview and he didn’t disappoint. At the end of our chat I asked if he would have any interest being a columnist for National Club Golfer and, for the next 18 months, I can’t think of anything he said that I either didn’t agree with or pass off as my own opinion at some point or other.
He was refreshingly honest and he saw things for what they were.
“You get to the stage where you think if I ever see one one more manager in a Zara tweed jacket, a pair of Chinos and a blank clipboard I will scream,” was one particular favourite.
The past few years haven’t gone as smoothly as previous ones and the last few months have been a real struggle with six missed cuts from his last seven starts. Then he opened with a 66 in Sweden last week and he spoke to the Sky Sports cameras afterwards.
“It’s my 10th year out here in a row now and this has been not about golf, it’s about everything else. Tour life’s getting a chore, travelling’s getting hard. I’ve got a little boy (Finley) at home, my wife’s having some health problems and had surgery two days ago, so there’s stuff at home going on that’s taken my attention away from the game.
“I’ve gone back to my old coach Hugh Marr and done some really good work with Justin Buckthorp, my trainer-come-psychologist, best friend, mentor, and stripped everything back and realised why I’m doing it, what I’m doing it for and I’m in a happier place personally. He’s kind of brought me back from the brink of hanging up the boots so I’m not sure if I’ll thank him for that or not!”
In the space of a few minutes Morrison encapsulated what a lot of golfers go through on a regular basis; the travelling, your real life away from golf, the constant need to improve, the self-doubt and the question that then has to pop up – why am I doing all this?
In recent months we’ve had Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston explain his struggles and admit that he’s regularly been reduced to tears, while Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn has bared all with his description of his talks to himself in the mirror in the book he co-authored with Michael Calvin, ‘Mind Game: The Secrets of Golf’s Winners’.
“Why are you crying?”
“Why do you put yourself through this pain?”
“Why do you play this game?”
“Who are you?”
“Where are you in your life?”
“What do you want to achieve?”
“Do you really want to continue?”
“Why does it mean so much to you?”
In an interview in the Guardian he explains that these conversations weren’t made up and that they actually happened.
“I was close to giving up the game. In the end it’s almost like I didn’t want to get up in the morning. This happens because the problems you see in your head are so much bigger than they are in reality. They take over your mind. You can ask all the people in the world but in the end, if your mind doesn’t respond, all of that is just noise. You need to take responsibility for what you’re thinking. My tool was having those conversations with the mirror.”
At the start of last week home hope Rikard Karlberg was in the hotseat for the always excellent European Tour player blog. At first it seemed a strange choice, then you read it and it was another welcome example of the modern-day player telling it like it is.
For Karlberg he was struggling to get out of bed after failing to shake off an infection before a doctor advised him that he probably had depression. A year ago his wife asked if he would like to go and watch the Nordea Masters, 20 minutes from his home, to try and give him a bit of a lift.
“I couldn’t at first as it was too sad. I did spend some time there over the weekend but to be honest I found the whole experience overwhelming after lots of people were coming up to me and asking me how I was. We went home early in the end, I found the day very tough.”
A year on and Karlberg, 5th last week in the Czech Republic, is in a different place.
“I really value the small things in golf now. I love how a really good shot feels in your hands, or when you hole a really good putt – finding all of that fun again. In Austria I was holing putts from everywhere and I was just laughing to my friend who was caddying for me.”
On another tour this weekend a collection of players collected hundreds of thousands of dollars for propping up the field. None of it matters of course, it’s just a glorified wheelbarrow event with a confusing scoring system that does little, if anything, for the integrity of the game.
The real heroes are the ones speaking out about their struggles and offering hope to others that things change and that they’re not alone.
For the record Karlberg birdied three of his last seven holes for a 71 while Morrison had another 66 for a tie for 29th and his best finish of the season. And, all being well, both will have enjoyed the thrill of it all and the respect of their peers.
Good on them.