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Tour players suffer mental health issues on the road, says study

9.13am 14th April 2021 - Interviews - This story was updated on Tuesday, April 13th, 2021

The length of time that today’s Tour Professionals are required to spend travelling and being way from family and friends is leading to loneliness and relationship difficulties, a new research report has found. 
  
Dr John Fry, Research Lead at the International Institute for Golf Education at University Centre Myerscough in Lancashire, working with Dr Daniel Bloyce, Head of Sport at the University of Chester, interviewed 20 tour professionals as part of his study into mental health issues, including Ryder Cup players and a former world number one, who spoke of the stress from an increasing time spent travelling and playing. 

Of the interviewees, 17 were British, one was from another European country and two were from outside Europe. 

Dr Fry told the British Sociological Association’s online annual conference today [Wednesday 14 April] that in 2019 the European Tour’s schedule of 46 tournaments took place in 32 countries, compared to 28 countries in 2014. Of those 46 events, 27 were staged outside of Europe. 

“Professional golfers are spending more time on the road, which leads to a range of stresses and insecurities that can impact negatively on their mental health and wellbeing,” Dr Fry said. “Players increasingly spend large periods away from any friends and family, and struggle to form anything but superficial relationships with others on tour.

“Pro golfers needed each other’s help to alleviate the stresses of life on tour, but at the same time, relationships were often tainted by tension, conflict, and rivalry.”

He added: “Many golfers experience loneliness, isolation, low social support, high psychological demands, and high job insecurity during various points of their career. They often feel they can’t talk openly about these concerns. Beyond the glitz and glamour is a reality where many pro golfers experience a variety of mental health and wellbeing problems.”

One golfer who had won six European Tour events told Dr Fry: “I don’t see my kids that much – they are too old to travel now, to be able to skip school. I miss my wife, my kids, my parents. I don’t see them enough, and that’s what is difficult.” 

The former world number one told him that “the hardest part of tour life is being away from the family”.  

Another European Tour winner said: “The more kids I had, the harder it got to say cheerio at the airport. I made sacrifices in terms of family life – I missed out on a lot of family activities and a school events. It affected my kids in the school – I think they missed out on me being there, school sports days and stuff like that.” 

A player who had won three European Tour events and a Major championship said: “Golf can be the most wonderful life in the world, but it can also be the most difficult. It can just be a lonely game. It can be gut wrenching, furious at times. It can get to a point where you don’t like who you are.”

Another leading European Tour player said: “I am not surprised that so many professional golfers get divorced because it can put a lot of pressure on partners.”

Dr Fry also found that while the income of the top European Tour professionals had increased over the past few years, the players on the Challenge Tour, the second tier of European professional golf, were earning less, leading to even more stress.

As an example, a player who finished 50th at the end of the 2019 Challenge Tour earned £29,000 in prize money, more than 20% lower than the £37,000 earned in 2014 by a player in the same position. Travelling expenses could wipe out any profit from this. 

One Challenge tour player said: “I’ve been through financial ruin as a result of my commitment to continuing to play, and how I was, and still am, unwilling to give up my dream. It’s cost me my marriage as well. So that’s the price that I’ve paid to continue playing golf.  I wouldn’t change it for anything, I really wouldn’t. It’s upsetting that it led to the breakdown of my marriage, but would I do it all again? Yes – I’d always planned to be a golfer or die in the process.” 

Another Challenge Tour player said: “Unless you’re winning, or in the top five or 10 every week, you’re not really making a huge amount of money. I would say that more than half the players who are playing, it has cost them money.” 

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