Golf Lonely When You Play, Lonely When It’s Over
Why would anyone say such a thing? Golf is a social game to be played with one’s family, best friends, guests or business colleagues. I’m certainly not talking about weekend or amateur retirement golf. Those can be some of the most golden hours of one’s life. I’m talking about making a living at it. How could anyone be lonely? Easy.
What we see on television is a ceaseless commotion behind the scenes, and players who are surrounded with thousands of people watching and in support as they play. If you’ve ever walked in the multitude from South Ferry past Wall Street, you know the flaw in that thinking. General sadness, depression, and excruciating loneliness can come at a time when half the world is milling around you.
First of all, touring is a natural drain on the battery, no matter what sort of tour one is on. You begin the first week at 100%, but by the second event, you’ve only recharged to 97%. Two months into it, and the best you can recoup is 70%. A year of touring? Don’t ask. Under the label of “sadness” are many sub-categories including depression, anxiety, loneliness, and in the case of a former pro, loss of what might not have been the good old days in every way, but at least a time when one was in the thick of it. Being lonely is not a transient thing. Even the most private among us need something human, and the tour is not always the place to get it.
The exhaustion that allows the other mental monsters in is not only ubiquitous, but steeped in isolation. Generally, practicing is done alone, even with coaches present. Traveling to a new city or country every week takes its toll, and as one pro points out, there are no teammates, only competitors. That never really occurred to me. For those prone to being lonely, getting on the Solheim or Ryder Cup team must be heaven on earth. It is the only time one is one the bench or tee with team members. Certainly, playing golf isn’t the same as going to war, but a resulting condition may be related. To accomplish excellence in the game, one gives up a great deal, including things, events, and above all, people. Sometimes one has to give it all up, even family. After an extended period, that is enough to produce a byproduct of PTSD, despite not being under live fire. Preparation requires an unnatural regimen, and to be lonely is only one of its symptoms.
Some have lived such a regimen since childhood. Aspiring stars start very early these days, and jump through a lot of hoops. If one becomes a frequent complainer, people will think you’re not cut out for the golf life. Coming clean about it isn’t easy. It can’t be to just anyone, and certainly not an opponent. As Christina Kim can affirm, having an energetic, outgoing and humor-laden personality is not a cloak of protection. Some of the most rhetorically gregarious people in the world fall into desperately lonely states.
In terms of colleagues, perhaps we get more humanity when we’re not doing so well. On winning days, there are congratulations, hugs, leaps into the pond, and winner’s circle ceremonies. Then the cameras go off, and everyone leaves. Where do they go? Often, it’s to the next venue. That’s where you go as well, but not until you’ve tossed your trophy into a traveling bag and shipped it off somewhere. When you win, the folks at home depending on your income are safe for another week or two, but what if it all ends? And it will.
I used to watch Gene Sarazen narrate the Wonderful World of Golf, or some such show. It featured the Big Three matched in single rounds. I used to sit there and wonder how many people realized that only a few years before, Sarazen should have been in those matches. He was the guy. It looked like a lonely way to spend retirement, reporting about the stars that replaced you.
The tour is longer than it has ever been. Rest and human interaction come at a premium. For the lonely golfer, it’s a long year. I hope that everyone plagued by loneliness has a plan, and more importantly, a person to tell it to – someone who makes you feel like getting up and going to the next venue.