It came as no surprise when, at the end of the recent Betfred British Masters, people were suggesting that golf in a pandemic is a young man’s game. After all, Renato Paratore, the winner, is only 23, while Rasmus Højgaard, the runner-up, is but 19.
Lee Westwood, the 47-year-old tournament host, seemed to endorse that popular theory when he said that he felt out of his comfort zone because there was none of the usual social interaction he had come to associate with tournament weeks.
Andrew “Beef” Johnson, 31, could identify with the Westwood view. In keeping with how he opened up about his mental-health challenges last year, this engagingly sociable soul came straight to the point and said he felt uneasy with the new arrangements at Close House. He went home after nine holes.
Yet Neil Coles, 85 years of age and a winner of 25 European Tour titles and a veteran of eight Ryder Cups, made a guess that if the younger players on tour were anything like his 25-year-old grandson, it would probably be the older fry who ended up doing the better overall.
The 59-year-old Gary Wolstenholme, who famously defeated Tiger Woods in a Walker Cup singles in 1995, thought the opposite: “The youngsters will continue to prevail because they are the hungrier. Players like Paratore will be desperate to play – and thanking their lucky stars that the European Tour has managed to get them out there.”
“The health benefits of playing golf are amazing, but life as a touring pro is stressful when you’re away from friends and family for 30 weeks a year.”
Andrew Murray, European Tour doctor
Where Coles and Wolstenholme were in full agreement was in saying that the present circumstances are not cut out for those who don’t like their own company, whatever their age. Wolstenholme said that while he is fine on his own, he could think of players he admired hugely who simply had to have people around them. And if they didn’t, their scores would take a dive.
Here, these two sages had arrived at what that well-known sports psychologist, Jamil Qureshi, sees as the crux of the matter: “Some people won’t like the idea of being locked in a hotel room, alone with their soul and thoughts after a tricky day; others will benefit from the lack of distractions offered by an evening out.”
All of that delving into the mental game took one back to what the European Tour doctor, Andrew Murray had to say at last year's Scottish Open on the subject of everyday life on tour.
“Most people make the mistake of thinking that the on-tour doctors deal with nothing other than a steady stream of back and wrist problems when the truth is that 10 to 15 percent of our work is related to well-being,” he said. “The health benefits of playing golf are amazing, but life as a touring pro is stressful when you’re away from friends and family for 30 weeks a year.”
And that’s before you introduce a pandemic to the mix.