A few weeks ago, after a Epson event when I held a three-shot lead overnight and wound up finishing third after a final round 73, I started writing a blog. I titled it “winning… even though I didn’t.” Much like the tournament I was trying to write about, I didn’t finish it.
I wanted to make a connection between what I’d felt that week - playing well enough to lead a tournament, having finally found a way (with incredibly painful reluctance) to let go of my expectations - and Phil Mickelson winning the PGA Championship - but it felt too hollow. Everything I’d felt for two rounds disappeared the moment I stepped onto the first green of the last round.
I know a lot of my writing skews negative. It’s not because I don’t love golf - that never wavers, even when I overwhelmingly detest it - but more because there are so many intricacies to playing well and getting results. Players who miss cuts or shoot over par on the weekends or don’t win - the latter of which is 99% of the field - don’t tend to get interviewed too often, so we don’t get to hear the best players in the world talk about how damn difficult it is, even for them, so much of the time. The questions we hear more often are directed to the leaders, or the winners, along the lines of “how great does it feel to shoot 64/win this tournament/go home with $5 million?”
The thing is, in those moments, it really does just feel great.
In those moments, everything else makes sense.
In those moments, the darkness is irrelevant.
In those moments, the unprompted voice-cracking over a FaceTime call while explaining a final-round 75; the dejected pressing of refresh for three hours to see just how close to 60th place you can wind up; and the disorientating smallness of not being able to control the putter face over a two-footer - they don’t matter anymore. The lonely drives across three different states to catch a Saturday flight instead of a Monday one, the well-meaning but insincere texts and social media posts about enjoying a week but not getting the result you wanted, the desperate acceptance of silently feigning an injury if it means a break in the cycle.
When you have a microphone in your face and a trophy that you can barely hold (the one on Sunday after I won the Prasco Charity Championship, my first win on the Epson Tour, felt like it weighed more than me), none of that matters at all. They are all just fragments that make up the HD picture of the leaderboard by the 18th green; numbers and letters and emotions that spell out something resembling satisfaction once you check with your walking scorers that you’re reading it correctly.
I haven’t had a ‘dark’ year or career by any stretch of the imagination, even though my negatively biased unconscious mind won’t fully buy into the nightly meditation app I feed it. I’ve won six professional events - in a still relatively small number of total events - I’ve been in contention quite a lot. I’ve got some great backing from sponsors and incredible coaches. I’ve got people who will love and support me whether I win 10 tournaments a year or decide to quit tomorrow. I get to play professional golf and travel the world for a living, as a world still struggles to recover from a global pandemic. And I’ve got things that mean more than golf.
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt dark moments. Everyone’s definition of darkness is relative. But as more and more public figures open up about their mental health, it’s important to recognize that everyone’s feelings are real and valid. Of course, there are thousands of people that would swap their 9 to 5 office jobs for shooting 75 on beautiful golf courses every week. But knowing that won’t necessarily get rid of the searing emptiness that a player feels every night as they walk down to hotel reception again to ask for a plastic knife and fork to eat your takeaway food.
Those dark corners, they do matter. I write about them because we all experience them, even if we don’t always want to acknowledge it. I also have a brain that never sleeps and play a sport that can never be mastered, which creates a motivating but confused cocktail of thoughts I try to decipher by writing. Part of the reason I didn’t finish my blog after not winning that Epson event a few week ago was because I didn’t trust my own thoughts. I wanted to be ready to win again and I wasn’t. The process I was in, from a mental direction, was still ongoing. It still is, of course, but it’s less fragile now. I didn’t want to write about it then because I was scared of undoing it.
Rewiring my thought process to be able to trust myself again was, and is, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Harder than trying to get more distance off the tee or stopping my clubface from opening at the top of my backswing when I’m under pressure or continuing to hit balls on a muddy practice ground in January when I can’t feel my hands or feet and my heated top has run out of power.
At the PGA, Mickelson found the pieces that gave him the mental clarity he needed to trust his game.
That same week, I started to find mine… but I wasn’t quite ready to trust them.
This past week, I was.
And I won.
And it feels pretty damn awesome.