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  • Alistair Tait

Golf & Mental Health Worth Discussing

The issue of mental health and how it relates to golf is getting a lot of air time.

Good. About time, too. It’s a subject worth discussing.

Daniel Rapaport penned an excellent article on the subject recently in Golf Digest which is worth reading. Meghan MacLaren has dived into the issue too.

Are we surprised those who make their living from trying to guide a recalcitrant ball into an elusive dark hole sometimes suffer from mental health problems? No. Imagine having to hit a green with a 4-iron to know you’re going to make money that week? Envisage a job where you have to go head to head with the 100 or so best in your business every single week?

Think what it must be like for the can’t miss kid who misses big time. What does it feel like for players who lose their card, or miss out at Q School, to return to golf clubs they’ve grown up at to face fellow members?

It’s surprising we’re only beginning to talk about this issue now.

Obviously, the more we talk about mental health the more chance those who make their living from this game will be able to seek help to deal with the issue. It should hopefully get professional tours to institute policies to help members deal with mental health matters.

However, as caddie Johnny McLaren (pictured above centre) has made plain, it’s not just players who suffer from mental health strains. Those faithful bag carriers are also prone to the anxieties that come with tour life. Given the itinerant nature of life as a tour caddie, where you can be fired on a whim, it’s arguably more of a problem in the caddie ranks. And probably always has been.

McLaren, nicknamed “Johnny Long Socks” for his penchant for colourful hosiery, has announced his retirement because of anxieties experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 55 year old, who caddies for Paul Casey but has worked for Tony Johnstone, Luke Donald, Duffy Waldorf, Scott Dunlap and others, told

“The accumulation of the last 18 months of travel, the testing, the uncertainty, has taken its toll, not only on me, but how I am at home with my family.
“Once that starts to have an impact on my young children and my wife, whom I very much love, then the questions start to arise about the sacrifices relative to what needs to be gained.
“In the end is you start to recognise some minor changes in your own personality. It was more about taking command of that situation rather than being a victim of it.”

McLaren will caddie for the final time at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.

No one can begrudge McLaren this decision. However, let’s not think it’s just players and caddies who face mental health issues from travelling the near 52-week a year circus that is professional golf. This game is blessed with an army of excellent officials who make sure the show goes on every single week. They toil hard in the background and never get the full credit they deserve.

Imagine the stresses and strains tour officials have faced during this pandemic, the same anxieties McLaren has suffered. Many tour officials would no doubt love to jack it all in to spend more time with their families but probably can’t afford to. Those seven figures purses don’t drip feed down to those who make sure the circus big top goes up every week.

Since I’m talking about excellent tournament officials, imagine the mental health strains placed on those 68 excellent European Tour officials who lost their jobs last year even though the tour was in “robust financial health.”

One more thing, don’t think people who write about golf aren’t prone to mental health issues. Imagine spending your career writing about this game, knowing it inside out, having a contact list as long as a driver shaft, producing excellent articles on a consistent basis and being told you’re surplus to requirement by an editor/publisher who probably doesn’t know who Ben Hogan was, and thinks Joyce Wethered was a type of English rambling rose.

By the way, I’m not talking about myself in the preceding paragraph. The above scenario has, sadly, played out too many times in recent years. My no-thank you send off after over 25 years service consisted of just 13 unlucky words:

“Let’s just cut to the chase: We’re not going to renew your contract.”

Suffice it to say, I, too, have experienced mental health issues. I thank my lucky stars every day for a loving wife and family who helped me through them.

#JustSaying: “Ninety five percent of this game is mental. If a guy plays lousy golf he doesn’t need a pro: he needs a shrink.” Tom Murphy

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