Andrew Johnston Withdrawal Highlights Difficulty of Life in a Bubble
ANDREW ”BEEF” JOHNSTON’S premature withdrawal from the British Masters is a reminder to us all that even our sports stars are susceptible to the effects of the lockdown. Earlier this year an emotional Johnston opened his heart about problems with his mental health issues, admitting that constantly being expected to act the fool had taken its toll on him.
It turns out that he is not the extrovert we all thought he was and he struggled to live up to the image he had created for himself as golf’s court jester. During his brief time on the PGA Tour everybody wanted a piece of him, wanted their pictures taken with him, wanted to eat burgers with him and wanted him to join them for a beer. And being the sort of individual who wants to keep everybody happy, he found it extremely difficult to say no. Unsurprisingly, his form suffered and he lost his card after just one season.
It should come as no surprise that he is battling again in the current climate. Those playing on the European Tour just now must return to their hotels after their competitive rounds, and must stay there until the following day, when the whole process begins all over again. They are allowed just one “buddy” and in all cases that is their caddie - the very person they have spent five hours on the course with.
Remember, too, that all the continental Europeans are in a totally alien environment, eating strange food and having to cope with an English summer.
And for Beef it was all too much. “I’m struggling to get my head around it all,” he said. “On minute I am coming out of lockdown, going out for dinner and the next I’m back in lockdown in a hotel room. I’ve been on and off saying I am going to play, I am not going to play for months. I kept changing my mind. But being here and 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 these two places and then coming out and trying to compete. It just doesn’t feel right. I came to Close House on Tuesday morning to try to be away for as small a time as possible, but it is just not good preparation for a tournament and it shows I really don’t want to be here.”
He managed nine holes and then decided he’d had enough. It was a brave thing to do and for him it was the right thing to do.
Just think about this - anybody who chooses to play all six events on the UK Swing will be isolated from their families for the duration. They are not allowed to return home. The PGA Tour has decided to allow wives to join players - time alone will deliver its verdict on the wisdom of that decision but it does seem a trifle premature.
In total there have been around 500 people in attendance at Close House - 156 players, 156 caddies and the rest made up of tour officials, course staff and media. Everybody is rigorously tested on a daily basis. And EVERYBODY must follow the rules.
The tour is to be applauded for everything it has done to get the players back out there, and is to be further praised for vowing to support Johnston and anybody else who is battling with mental health demons. Those of us who spent lockdown on our own will know how difficult it is for these young men to cope with the isolation. It is safe to assume that Beef will not be the only one who concludes that it is just not worth the effort.
Like the rest of us, they are social animals. By all accounts, most of those who ply their trade on the PGA Tour do not mix with one another off the course, but that is not the case in Europe, which may well go some way towards explaining why we do so well in the team environment at the Ryder Cup. Imagine then, not being able to sit down and eat together, not being able to spend time in a hotel bar. Staring at four hotel walls for the best part of six weeks is not going to do very much for anybody’s wellbeing, especially those who have had to leave young families at home.
Johnston is not the only professional golfer to fight his inner demons. There have been several high-profile individuals on the PGA Tour who have admitted to serious issues with alcohol and depression. Chris Kirk has only recently returned to action after admitting that he had been fighting alcoholism and depression, and he has said that it was weeks on the road on his own that contributed to his particular issues.
This is a performance-driven individual sport. All of us who play golf know what a frustrating game golf can be. And no matter what standard we reach, we all also know that form can desert us at any time.
Of course, as fans we focus on the heroics being performed by the likes of Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Collin Morikawa et al.
But imagine having to grind it out week in, week out, missing cuts, having to pay a caddie and hotel bills. And having all that time on your hands to fester on the fact that your game stinks. Loss of form destroyed many top golfers - Ian Baker Finch, Bill Rogers, Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle to name but four.
And even at the highest level, McIlroy has admitted that there are times when he cannot face the thought of playing the game - and he has won four majors, the FedEx Cup, the Race to Dubai, earned millions of pounds and lives in a fabulous home. But that brings its own pressures - an expectation to perform at the highest level every time he plays, for starters. And then there is the media. He is expected to have an opinion on everything and everybody, from the effects of coronavirus to Brexit to his views on Donald Trump. His every single move is scrutinised.
When Johnston decides he is ready to return he will also find the eyes of the world upon him. We all wish him well. For him, right now there are more important things in life than chasing a little white ball around. At least he is at home with his partner and baby daughter.
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