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Lucas Glover and the heavy burdens of professional golf

The Guardian logo The Guardian 17/05/2018

Lucas Glover missed the cut at last weekend’s Players Championship. © USA TODAY Network/Sipa USA/REX/Shutterstock Lucas Glover missed the cut at last weekend’s Players Championship. Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author on behalf of our content partner and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft

When people learn that I was a professional golfer, the response is often the same: “That must have been a dream.”

Most of the time, I don’t know how to respond because, if I gave an honest answer, it might sound ungrateful. Yes, playing professionally was an incredible experience. I had the chance to travel, played some of the top golf courses in the world, and had the best equipment at my disposal.

But one thing I did not have was a guaranteed salary. As a result, the pressure to place well in tournaments was overwhelming, taking away from the joy of playing.

JEJU, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 20:  Lucas Glover of the United States looks on during the second round of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges on October 20, 2017 in Jeju, South Korea.  (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images) © Catalyst Images JEJU, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 20: Lucas Glover of the United States looks on during the second round of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges on October 20, 2017 in Jeju, South Korea. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

The best year I had playing professionally, I made close to $45,000. This included tournament earnings, as well as golf outings with corporate sponsors. Then there are the costs to play a full on season on the LPGA – around $60,000, if you’re incredibly tight with your budget. Luckily, I had sponsors who covered most of my expenses, but I was certainly not wealthy.

I reflected on this after news broke that former US Open champion Lucas Glover’s wife, Krista, was arrested on domestic violence charges after last weekend’s Players Championship. Allegedly Krista got into an altercation with Glover’s mother after Lucas missed the 54-hole cut at a tournament with the second largest purse of the year. 

While the reasons behind Krista Glover’s arrest may be more complex than a bad round and a missed payday, it reminded me personally of the pressure I felt as a young pro trying to make it. 

SHANGHAI, CHINA - OCTOBER 27:  Lucas Glover of the United States plays a shot on the ninth hole during the second round of the WGC - HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club on October 27, 2017 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images) © Catalyst Images SHANGHAI, CHINA - OCTOBER 27: Lucas Glover of the United States plays a shot on the ninth hole during the second round of the WGC - HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club on October 27, 2017 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

On tour – apart from a few events such as the Masters – you only make money when you make the cut. One shot can cost you thousands, if not more. Knowing that adds pressure not just to play well so you can pay the bills, but also puts a strain on relationships, including your relationship with yourself.

Golf and I always had a rocky relationship, but it became more hostile during my time as a professional. Each shot had a price tag, and any failure on the course led to me berating myself.

I would cry after bad rounds and wallow in self-pity, cursing at myself for the shortcomings in my game. With the added anxiety of worrying about how I would pay bills, I was always on edge. As a result, my relationships with friends, family and significant others suffered. I worried that I was letting my parents down after all the sacrifices that they made to help me reach my goal of playing on the LPGA. When they did try to help by showing me golf was literally a game, and that I shouldn’t make it more than that, I would explode. These arguments caused a chasm as it made my parents afraid to say or do anything that could cause emotional upheaval.

JEJU, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 21:  Lucas Glover of the United States looks dejectedafter his putt on the 18th green during the third round of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges on October 21, 2017 in Jeju, South Korea.  (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images) © Catalyst Images JEJU, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 21: Lucas Glover of the United States looks dejectedafter his putt on the 18th green during the third round of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges on October 21, 2017 in Jeju, South Korea. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

The anxiety also seeped into my friendships, so much so that I would be too down to see anyone. Finding the emotional energy to invest in others, while worrying whether I would ever amount to anything on the course seemed too taxing. And quite honestly, it was hard for me to see my friends living happy and productive lives with financially stable careers. I envied them.

Golf, like other individual sports, is isolating. You don’t have a team or organization to fall back on after a rough game. There’s no safety net, there’s no guaranteed contracts, or anyone else to blame for a loss. It’s all up to you.

Studies also show that athletes in non-team sports are more prone to depression. “Individual athletes attribute failure more to themselves than team sports athletes. They take the blame more than team players. On a team there is a diffusion of responsibility ... compared with the performance of an individual athlete,” said Professor Jürgen Beckmann the university chair of sports psychology at Technical University of Munich.

JEJU, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 22:  Lucas Glover of the United States hits his tee shot on the 5th hole during the final round of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges on October 22, 2017 in Jeju, South Korea.  (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images) © Catalyst Images JEJU, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 22: Lucas Glover of the United States hits his tee shot on the 5th hole during the final round of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges on October 22, 2017 in Jeju, South Korea. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

So perhaps the question to ask someone who plays an individual sport professionally is: do you have the emotional support you need to deal with the pressure?

That question will always be more appreciated than: “Damn! You must be rich!”

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