In most instances, it is the athletes themselves, rather than the governing bodies, who are the first to open up about mental-health issues in their sport. In golf, it was the European Tour who made the initial move. “We wanted our players to know that it was OK not to feel OK,” explained Steve Todd, the deputy director of communications.
First, there was a blog post in a 2017 edition of the tour’s weekly bulletin in which Danny Willett told of the low months which followed his ’16 Masters triumph. Then, in July ’19, there was that Andrew “Beef” Johnston post which appeared on the eve of Scottish Open at the Renaissance.
Initially, Johnston was half-wishing he never had agreed to go along with it, but from the moment he got out of his car there he felt nothing but warmth. There was a hug from his friend Paul Waring and, seconds later, a reassuring pat on the shoulder from Henrik Stenson. “Sometimes,” said Stenson afterwards, “it doesn’t feel right to do what Beef’s done and say what’s going on, but at other times it’s absolutely right.” Stenson added that it could not have been easy for the player to be the instant and extraordinary favourite that he was.
As Johnston said in his post about his first visit to the States: “I was just a normal geezer from Finchley and, when I got there, I saw this poll asking fans, ‘Who are you looking forward to seeing more?’ And I was above Tiger Woods. It was crazy.” (Made all the more crazy by all those cries of “Beef!”)
Johnston's recent run of top-10s tell how much better he is today but, only last year, he had to make an early exit from the British Masters because he could not cope with the bubble situation. Once again, the European Tour encouraged him to speak out.
“We wanted our players to know that it was OK not to feel OK.”
Steve Todd, European Tour deputy director of communications
Lexi Thompson’s issues have been well-documented, while America’s Matthew Wolff talked at this year’s US Open of the problems he faced after finishing second in 2020 at Winged Foot when he was still only 21.
Going on from there, England’s Charley Hull said last week that the reason she pulled out of the Olympics was because she felt her mental health would not be up to the stringent COVID-19 measures in Japan. Her concerns were born of the fortnight she spent in quarantine in a hotel in Palm Springs, California, after the LPGA had moved on. When GGP asked if she was owning to all of this because she had seen so much about Simone Biles’s troubles on social media, she suspected that was the case: “On the one hand it’s good that it’s easier to talk about it today, though sometimes I think that there’s too much on social media.”
Golfers, she suspects, are perhaps not as forthcoming as some.
“Quite often,” Hull said, “I think you’ll find that when someone cites a shoulder injury as they pull out of a tournament, there isn’t any injury at all. The chances are that it’s a mental-health problem.”