Golf can do wonders for your mental health – I should know

The Scoop

In his frankest column yet, Steve Carroll addresses some personal battles and explains how golf saved him

I can’t exactly remember the day – what I can perfectly recall is the feeling of despair.

I’d woken unable to lift my head off the pillow and the bland cream walls of the doctor’s surgery only added to the gloom.

In hindsight, this had been building to a climax for months. I’d been a fixture of the practice waiting room, rushing to and fro for all kinds of fiddly things that had always seemed like crises at the time.

I once spent three days hooked up to a portable ECG machine. The specialists were trying to work out why I’d suddenly wake in the night gasping for breath and with a heart rate soaring past 200 beats a minute.

That had been unsettling when it merely happened once in a while. When it became every night it was terrifying. The medics were as confused as I was.

A recent World Health Organisation study has estimated that some three million people in the UK suffer with an anxiety disorder of some kind. Even though they are things no one ever seems to want to discuss, when you do start opening up you find you are never alone.

Panic would strike me with no warning. Location wasn’t a barrier.

Once, in the middle of a simple haircut, I freaked, drenching the seat with sweat – ticking the seconds off the clock on the wall and praying for an exit.

I went through therapy to learn coping mechanisms but one thing above all helps me keep the fear under control. Golf has transformed my life.

A couple of weeks ago, the first International Congress on Golf and Health was held in London, outlining the latest research in a project that various bodies, including the R&A, have been backing for several years. 

Even if you didn’t know that was going on, you may well have heard some of the headlines. The most interesting was the revelation from Dr Andrew Murray, chief medical officer for the European Tour, that playing regular rounds could put as many as five extra years on your life.

The power of golf, though, lies not just in its ability to make us physically fitter and healthier. The study is now looking at the effects playing the sport can have on anxiety, depression and general well-being.

I won’t be the only interested observer when those findings are finally published, although I suspect those of us who play frequently already know many of the answers.

There’s something completely calming about being in a big green space, focusing on nothing more than a swing and the contact of club on ball.

My troubles have always melted away in that environment and I’ve been able to find order in the chaos of modern living. I realise that’s hardly a scientific analysis. But I know what golf has done to put me on an even keel and I cherish the time I spend playing.

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