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  • Alistair Tait

Staring into the abyss

Padraig Harrington used to come back from an off season and wonder if he could still play at the same level. He was sometimes so paranoid he didn’t want to take time off.

Imagine a three-time major winner feeling like this?

If that’s how Harrington’s mind worked, imagine what it’s like for aspiring tour players, or players on a downward spiral hoping to get back on track.

I spend a lot of time looking at leader boards from different tours. Not just the European, PGA, Ladies European and LPGA Tours, but the Challenge Tour, LET Access Tour, Korn Ferry Tour, EuroPro Tour, Jamega Tour, Alps Tour, Tartan Tour, Cactus Tour, and so it goes.

What strikes me about looking at these diverse leader boards are the number of players who either haven’t made it or are still trying to make it. I’m fascinated by what separates champions from non-champions, perennial European Tour players from those yo-yo players who flit between the main tour and challenge tour, some who often slip back down to the mini-tours.

Of course, for many golf is all they know. It’s not as if they can walk into another career. That’s especially true for those with no college degree to their name.

Paul Broadhurst went through a bad patch in the late 1990s, early 2000s when he wondered how he would make a living to provide for his family:

“I couldn’t do anything else really” he said. “I’m not trained to do anything else. All I’ve ever done is play golf.
“I did consider doing something else, trying to get a job, but goodness knows what I’d have done. If I couldn’t play golf then I honestly don’t know what I’d be doing now."

Thankfully, Broadhurst came through his slump and went onto win twice more on the European Tour, the 2005 and 2006 Portuguese Opens. He’s gone on to success in senior golf, winning the 2016 Senior Open Championship and the 2018 Senior PGA Championship. Others haven’t been so lucky.

Stories of players quitting to become taxi drivers, painters and decorators, or to get jobs in golf are not uncommon. Some, like Scotland’s Sally Watson go back into education.

At least Watson had the option of taking an MBA at the Chicago School of Business after getting her degree at Stanford. I’m a big believer in taking advantage of the American college system for those good enough. A university degree is something to fall back upon when the dream of major championship success dies. I’ve got quite a few friends who completed their degrees and stepped into decent jobs when they realised they weren’t going to become average tour pros let alone world beaters. Harrington got through that stage:

“When I tend to look at myself now as a rookie, I would have told myself pack up and go home. That’s how most people would have looked at me when I first started out. I was the ultimate dogs chase cars and pros putt for pars.
“When I came out I had no idea of where I was going to fit in. I didn’t know much so I just did my own thing.
“There is a beauty in innocence, there is no doubt about it.”

Maybe. Harrington got through those first years and went on to become a major winner. Broadhurst said the early years are the toughest for any tour pro.

“As a kid you try to look for too much, make too many changes. You take a lot of things on board because other people are doing it, or because others have said ‘try this, it will help you.' So you do and you end up going down paths you should never have gone down. You see it happening all the time on the tour. Young guys they’re working with one guy, the next they’re working with somebody else. That’s a recipe for disaster.
“You just never know. You pray you don’t lose your game. So many players do and never get it back.”

David Duval, Ian Baker Finch, Yani Tseng, the list of players who reaches heights and then drop into the abyss is endless. Those players I see week in week out on the different tours walk that fine ridge that separates a satisying walk to the top of the mountain from that dreadful fall into the abyss.

In Thomas Bjorn and Michael Calvin’s excellent book Mind Game: The Secrets of Golf’s Winners, Martin Kaymer says:

“To become better, you need a vision that is right for you. Sometimes that vision is a bit cloudy, so you need people – not too many, but one or two – who will open that door for you.
“Fortunately, I’ve always been brave enough to walk through that door.”

Why are some brave enough to walk through that door to success while others struggle to get across the threshold?

#JustSaying: “Golf came close to breaking me.” Thomas Bjorn

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