The benefits of golf on mental health have been espoused many times. Particularly over the previous 18 months.
Enjoying the great outdoors, exercise, company with fellow golfers, a sense of achievement, are some of the many positive elements of the game that have been frequently pointed to as boosting players’ state of mind for the better.
This is no doubt true, and there is so much more about golf that has positive impacts on all areas of life.
However, the game and how success is achieved, or at least perceived to be, for those with a commitment bordering on obsession can also have its drawbacks.
Most recently, this has been highlighted by Matthew Wolff’s break from tournament golf. And subsequent return at this week’s US Open.
"The American is seemingly experiencing both sides of how golf can affect mental health, and hopefully is well on his way to proving the positive side far outweighs the negative." - Jimmy Emanuel.
Wolff has been frank in interviews about not enjoying his golf, trying to be perfect and a range of other topics that led a man who went close to winning this same event last year to take a month-plus hiatus from his profession at just 22.
“At the Masters I think that was pretty much the turning point, the entire time my head was down and I hated it. I mean, I just, I didn't love being out there and like I didn't enjoy it and it was hard for me,” Wolff said.
The burden and strain of being a professional athlete has been exposed perhaps more than ever in recent months, with Naomi Osaka and her decisions about press conferences and subsequently playing at the French Open creating a great deal of discussion.
For Wolff, the pursuit of a highly individual sport since a young age and into the pro ranks, highlights some of the sometimes less beneficial elements of the game of golf when it comes to mental health.
For so long, many have believed that if their golf isn’t where they want it, or once was, that the secret is in the dirt.
This old adage so often linked to the legendary Ben Hogan, suggests that the way to find improvement is by grinding away with practice and play until it emerges.
The same self-fixing attitude is also very pertinent in mental health, and especially for young men.
Yet any golfer who has gone through some struggles in their game and reached out to a professional, fellow player, club fitter, you name it, for help will know the benefit of another opinion or a professional’s expertise to bust out of slump. Or even, taking a brief break from the game to rediscover a love and enjoyment.
That is something Wolff is seemingly on his way towards, having talked about his situation with his team and even fellow players.
“I think like seeing that all these other athletes coming out and being like mental health is such an important thing and whether it's something that's going on personally or you're not playing well or you're not enjoying it or family or anything, it's just like, in this life, it's just so important to be happy and I live an amazing life,” Wolff said Thursday after an opening round of one-under par.
“I want to always play good, I want to always please the fans, but I just kind of realised that the more I've been taking a little bit of time off, the more I just realised I was like, I just need to enjoy myself and be happy.
“And mental health is a really big problem and we play a lot of golf and any professional athlete has to deal with a lot more stress and pressure than most people and it's, it just kind of got to me. But I've been working on it, I've been learning and I think that's all I can do.”
Wolff deserves praise for his openness and honesty during this week.
The 22-year-old could have kept his reasons for taking time away private, but making the opposite decision is continuing the mental health discussion in a majorly positive way, particularly for similarly aged young men.
The American is seemingly experiencing both sides of how golf can affect mental health, and hopefully is well on his way to proving the positive side far outweighs the negative.
“I just can't emphasise it enough, more than the score that I shot I was just happy to actually be smiling and laughing out there because, like I said, I haven't done it in a long time and it's hard to do when there's this much pressure and people and eyes watching you and stuff,” he said. “So I made a huge step in the right direction and I have a heck of a long way to go, but I'm working my way towards it.”