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  • Alistair Tait

Life can be lonely on the road

Oh, the glamour of it all. Five-star hotels, expensive meals, business class travel jet setting around the world to exotic places.

Aye, right.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Andrew “Beef” Johnston’s withdrawal from the BetFred British Masters is why it doesn’t happen more often. It takes a special breed to spend 30 odd weeks of the year on the road away from loved ones. We can all feel for the Englishman.

Johnston played nine holes at Close House and thought, screw this for a game of soldiers! He just couldn’t handle being inside the European Tour’s secure, coronavirus bubble, which states players cannot leave their hotel rooms.

“I’m struggling to get my head around it all,” Johnston said. “One minute I’m coming out of lockdown, going out for dinner, and then the next I’m back in lockdown in a hotel room.
“Being confined to the hotel, confined to the course and not being able to bring my family is ultimately not what I want and not how I want to live my life.
“We like to travel as a family and it’s just been very difficult to get my head around being stuck in those two places and then coming out and trying to compete. It just doesn’t feel right.”

You have to take your hat off to the 31-year-old for doing what’s best for him and his family. Remember, this is a person who was open and honest about the pressures of trying to cope with the instant fame that came his way after winning the 2016 Spanish Open. The Englishman admitted there were times when he’d go back to his hotel room and cry.

“I’ve learned to be honest about it, whereas in the past I might have just swallowed it up. I’m not going to do that anymore. If I’m not happy, I’m not going to be here. That’s the golden rule for me now. If I’m not in a good place, or I haven’t got the right set up around me, then it’s not right for me.”

Compare Johnston’s trip from his London home to Northumberland with Ryan Fox’s trip from New Zealand. The long-hitting Kiwi has committed to being away from his wife for three months, and then two weeks of quarantine when he gets home. He’s clearly made of stern stuff. It takes great fortitude to spend that much time away from loved ones.

Most golf writers don’t travel nearly as much as the people they cover, but they still put in the air miles. I’d be a rich man if I had a pound for every time someone marvelled at how lucky I am to have travelled the world covering this game. Yes, I love my job. Yes, I’m glad it’s taken me to famous courses, great tournaments, let me meet the game’s best players and even get on first name terms and strike up friendships with some, but here’s a wee secret: it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

A friend last year said ‘you must be looking forward to going to Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship?’ I mumbled ‘yes,’ and then thought: another long-distance flight, another hotel room, another week away from loved ones.

The most tournaments I ever covered in one season was about 22. Think what it’s like for a tour pro who’s playing 30-35 times a season, especially those trying to play two tours. I remember Ken Brown saying he made something like 27 transatlantic trips one year trying to play the PGA Tour and European Tour. It paid off to an extent because "Ken on the Course" won the 1987 Southern Open on the PGA Tour to go with eight European Tour wins. However, the toll it took was incredible. Brown was shattered by the end of the season.

The itinerant lifestyle of the tour player puts a huge strain on family life. Not only tour players, but everyone else connected to the travelling circus that is the European Tour. Facetime, Zoom etc., helps but there’s no substitute for physical contact. Believe me, it can be depressing channel surfing in another hotel room when you’d rather be at home reading a bed time story to one of your children, or having a glass of wine with your wife. Or when you have to miss your eldest daughter’s birthday yet again because it clashes with the Open Championship. Sorry, Aubrey.

If we’ve learned anything during the recent lockdown it’s just how important family and friends are. No surprise Johnston wants to spend time with his loved ones.

The European Tour has a programme to support players’ mental health and wellbeing. It includes a mental health support hotline 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.

Too bad there isn’t one for golf journalists and other tournament personnel. Trust me, life can be lonely on the road.

#JustSaying: “My enthusiasm for the game has dwindled in that I've found something more interesting – a wife." Bruce Leitzke

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