Standing in my hotel room on the Sunday night of the Women’s British Open I complete feeling of relief flooded over me. I was in St.Andrews, at the Old Course, the site of extreme devastation for me twice, firstly by missing out on British Open qualifying at age 16 and secondly being forced to turn professional shortly before the Curtis Cup that was to be held there 2 years later and the full circle I had come since then was not lost on me. 11 years after my first heartbreak there I had finally become the woman I wanted to be. My path had been very different from the one I had imagined back then, but then life is never what it is planned to be.
“I was convinced it was my mind; that I had lost it, whatever it was. I had tried everything”
I’ll start at the end. The end of my golf career. Sitting on the sofa in my first winter of retirement, and I was completely lost. I couldn’t withstand the pain of golf any longer; I thought anything would be better, yet this was a different kind of pain. My golf pain was a raw, gut wrenching heart breaking pain, that at times literally hurt my chest and had me crying in the shower, this one, this was empty, it was hollow and so painful that it was painless. What had I expected? A relief I suppose.
The full exact story of my golf career and retirement is one so long and harrowing it is for another day, perhaps another life time, so I’ll fast forward to the part after my worst injury – the slipped disc that left me unable to walk for 3 months. The doctor had given me the all clear in the March so I got back to playing as quickly as I could, I certainly wasn’t going to be one to make excuses. But sadly my body wasn’t the same, and it took 6 long months and countless excruciating missed cuts and mental demons for me to finally accept it. I desperately needed time out.
I was convinced it was my mind; that I had lost it, whatever it was. I had tried everything, the best coaches, psychologists, and performance coaches, practicing more and practicing less. In my mind – I was a failure, which was my entire thinking then. It took me nearly 3 long years to realise it was in fact my body and not my mind, but I didn’t know it at the time. Despite the fact that I desperately wanted to succeed in golf, things had all gotten too painful, it wasn’t fun anymore; I was overweight, lonely and miserable with an anxiety issue. I certainly wasn’t the woman I imagined.
“I felt depressed, but I had no right to be depressed, I should be mentally strong, I was an athlete. The retirement was hitting me hard, in ways I could never have expected”
I had no idea who I was anymore; my life balance was completely skewed to golf, golf and more golf. Friends wise I was very alone, I had sacrificed everything for golf which due to travel also meant friendships and work wise I had nothing to fall back on, I had left school at 16 for my sport. I remember clearly when a police officer stopped me for speeding, at a particularly low point, and asked me what I did for work, it took me a few rambling minutes to answer that I wasn’t a golfer, I wasn’t a TV presenter I had only had a handful of guest appearances at that stage, was I unemployed? Who was I?
I used to get up at 6am, motivated, dreaming of those trophies, looking at my mood board filled with pictures of Seve, Ali and all the greats. Yet now I couldn’t get out of bed before 10, after all what was I even getting up for anymore? I had desperately craved this time off; I used to say all I wanted was time! Yet now I had it and I didn’t know what in the world to do with it. I felt depressed, but I had no right to be depressed, I should be mentally strong, I was an athlete, I had had years and years of psychology training. I should know how to be positive. I had heard stories of athletes being depressed after retirement, but I wasn’t one of them, I was firmly in denial.
My first port of call was to get back to the gym; it was something that I knew and always made me feel good. But when I got there I realised I no longer knew how to train…. everything to that point had been so golf specific, every rep, every set, I’d push harder and harder envisioning major tournament wins, Solheim Cups, I was driven. Now I just stared at those dumbbells not knowing what to do. This retirement was hitting me hard, in ways I could never have suspected.
“2 years later and I find myself with a wonderful job filled with a team that is like family, a deep knowledge and comfort of myself, a wonderful husband, a healthy lifestyle and workout routine and a tribe of brilliant inspiring friends all of which I am extremely proud of. How did I get there? I decided for the first time in my life to truly back myself”
I knew I had to start from scratch and feel out who I was and what I wanted to do, how I wanted to train and how I wanted to spend my days. I didn’t know how to do it exactly but I set myself on a path of learning; reading copious amount of books, articles, interviews of successful people, anything I could get my hands on to try and figure it out. I won’t bore you with the rest of journey through retirement, the purpose of this story isn’t to depress you, it is to give you an albeit brief snapshot into what retirement looks life for some, so I shall fast forward again to this year.
2 years later and I find myself with a wonderful job filled with a team that is like family, a deep knowledge and comfort of myself, a wonderful husband, a healthy lifestyle and workout routine and a tribe of brilliant inspiring friends all of which I am extremely proud of. How did I get there? It wasn’t without disaster and many a meltdown I can tell you that. To start off my work with the Dame Kelly Holmes trust charity, of which I will be eternally grateful, got me over that first hurdle of depression, talking to fellow athletes who had gone through similar things made me feel like less of a nutcase and fairly normal with what I was feeling. The rest of the journey – well that was a mixture of me being really willing to learn and work hard at the things that are hard to work on, mainly myself, and of letting go. Work wise I am extremely grateful for what was great timing and hard work, (more on that later) but I know I couldn’t have done any of it without knowing who I really was – and that? That was figured out with me, a candle, a notebook, a hell of a lot of questions and a lot of meditation. At times tedious and never glamorous but effective. Anyway I can go into more detail on that in another post, it certainly wasn’t by accident though.
The reason I fast forward to this year because it has been a pivotal year so far for me, this year I started presenting for the first time. By May I had done a few voice-overs and one in vision studio presentation. They had all gone reasonably well, I’d gotten the ball over the net but I would say the challenges of presenting were unexpectedly different. It was learning a whole new skill set in itself. Being a studio guest I had gotten used to, I would research and talk about what I knew, so really in my mind presenting would be the same just sitting in a different seat right? Wrong. I didn’t really know how to practice it so I figured doing it more would just result in me getting better… until I had one particularly bad voice over presentation. I came home feeling down and the feeling stayed for a while, I knew what it was, it was that old voice and story coming into my head – I was a failure, this would be just like my golf, everyone saying I had a lot of potential, that I was a natural and and I was terrified that I would be mentally incapable of fulfilling that potential. My biggest fear. I had a big summer of golf coming up with a myriad of different roles and I was so worried that I going to let my team and myself down.
“I didn’t want to be saddled with the mental anguish of that belief about myself. I knew that pain all to well. I had a choice to make”
Luckily this time round I was much better equipped to deal with it, years of meditation had taught me to watch my thoughts and recognise those story lines instead of letting them control me. So I set to work, I realised that I was a novice at presenting, yet I was treating myself like I should be an expert. The many books I had read on success all had a similar story, they had told me that there was no such thing as talent, just hard work, grit and determination, something I firmly believe in. I had a choice to make and I didn’t want to be saddled with the mental anguish of that debilitating belief about myself. I knew that pain all to well.
So I heeded the advice of the books, I worked hard! I watched more golf than ever before, recorded everything I could get my hands on and practiced over and over again. I stepped up my research and organised myself better, I learnt from my peers and asked questions. There would be no excuses this time round. My goal was to be ready for July, where I had 4 weeks in a row starting with the US Women’s Open and ending with the Women’s British Open, I was taking on a few different roles, some new and this was the big test. This would answer the biggest question in my life could I perform under pressure and fulfill my potential? I had convinced myself after golf that the answer was no but now would be my chance of redemption.
I prepared as best as I could and decided for the first time in my life to truly back myself. I can’t tell you whether or not it was great, after all I’m not the viewer, but for me it was life changing. I’m not saying I was flawless, I probably never will be, but I had overcome my fear of failure by preparing properly and working hard. Something I long suspected I had shied away from in my golf, incase my best effort wasn’t good enough. I had done it, I’d overcome my nerves by being relaxed on air and most importantly I had had the confidence to just be myself and back myself. The mental relief, the blasting away of those doubts and that voice in my head; that was worth more than anything in the world. No matter what happens now I had answered the question, I had gone through the storm and come out the other side. Something that I honestly and seriously doubted that I could ever do.
So now I sit on a plane, on the way to this weeks Solheim Cup to do on course commentary for the first time in a full tournament week. I have no idea what to expect other than the atmosphere will be spectacular and the golf will be incredible, but whatever it brings I know this time, and every time, that I will be ready. Not because I am the finished article by any means, I don’t think I ever will be, but because I have learnt through my retirement that being open to always learning and persistently working hard; doing the very best I can and then when it’s all said and done, completely believing in myself will always see me through. All that is left to say now…