Golfer Becky Brewerton’s mental health journey back to the top



CNN

Undeserving. Frightened. Fake.

There were many ways to tag Becky Brewerton for the audience in 2012, down to Wales’ first Solheim Cup player to win the Women’s Tour of Europe (LET) twice, but none that came close to her self-described.

Formerly an outstanding amateur, Brewerton had traveled the world for eight years competing at the pinnacle of professional women’s golf. Then, almost overnight, her game disappeared, she.

Regular top 10 finishes were fleeting, then gone, and Brewerton’s income plummeted as his ranking dropped. With no place to live or a car nearby, he delivered parcels and takeaways, the slightest hope of a professional golf career completely abandoned.

An elite athlete who has spent countless hours improving his craft is suddenly paralyzed with fear and anxiety every time he competes? And more importantly, how do they overcome this fear to return to the highest level years later?

Brewerton has entered its 19th season on the Tour.

In January 2012, Brewerton was spending a peaceful Sunday afternoon in Spain before deciding to go cycling. A small stone later in a corner, the 29-year-old was flying head-on over the handlebars, his hip hitting the pavement.

The impact was so severe that it split his head and ripped off half the skin of his right hand, leaving a hollow around his hip joint large enough to fit his entire thumb.

But just two weeks later, a bruised Brewerton, despite looking more like a freshly beaten boxer than a golfer, limped onto a plane bound for Australia to play a series of events below.

Four incidents, four missed cuts: the typically consistent Welsh woman quickly found herself in the waters of uncharted form and drowned in similarly unfamiliar emotions.

Standing on the ball, his mind and limbs would be completely severed, apparently on a whim and with increasing regularity.

As he approached the first tee, Brewerton would often be met with a constricting chest and heart palpitations, as the task of just hitting the ball where he wanted it became utterly daunting.

“Even though I had a physical fall, I didn’t feel like it was the physical part of the injury that caused a problem. It felt like my mind; I was scared,” Brewerton told CNN’s Alex Thomas.

“Maybe it was partly because of the shock that something like this had happened, but I remember the first time I was really scared on the golf course.

“I would close my eyes and not be able to think straight, as if there were cars going at a thousand miles per hour the entire time because frankly, if I was thinking right, I would have realized something was wrong and I would have tried to do something about it instead of continuing.”

    Brewerton competes at the 2013 Women's World Championships in China.

While he believes it was a mistake to return to the game immediately after that fateful bike ride, he admits that not everything felt right for Brewerton, even as he ponders his psychological struggles and enjoys his success.

Brewerton began to doubt herself as Brewerton burst onto the scene as the European Women’s Amateur champion in 2002, finishing second in two LET events at just 16 years old.

Two Tour wins in 2007 and 2009 did little to quench such feelings. Even as she made history to reach the top of women’s play by representing Europe twice in the Solheim Cup in those years, Brewerton’s internal struggle continued.

“Then because I didn’t talk about it, part of me thought, ‘I’m weird or just weird,’ or if I say something, people will think I’m weird.

“I thought one day this would all go wrong. My biggest fear was not knowing if I could become the actress I wanted to be.

“I was always doubting myself and it was like fraudulent syndrome… ‘I don’t deserve to be here, I don’t belong here, I’m not as good as the other players here.’

“I enjoyed them even in the tournaments I’ve won, but I’ve always been like, ‘Did I deserve this? How did I do that?’ because I didn’t believe I could do it.

“And then all of a sudden it just piles up and then one day it’s like the glass got a little too full and everything fell apart.”

European teammates Gwladys Nocera (left) and Brewerton (right) after defeating the USA Team double at the 2009 Solheim Cup at Rich Harvest Farms, Illinois.

Brewerton traces her roots back to childhood, when an ingrained “come-back” attitude suppressed the thought of asking for help.

As golf became a full-time occupation, the sense of self became dangerously intertwined with results.

“Even some people who are my friends and nobody does it on purpose, but everybody always wants to know what golf is like,” he said.

“No one asks how you’re doing, so you’re feeding the narrative that your whole identity depends on whether you’re playing well.”

That connection proved devastating when Brewerton’s form went into free fall.

In the nine seasons after finishing five times in the LET in 2011, he only achieved the same feat three times, none of which would come after 2014.

At the Women’s Masters of Europe 2016, all of Brewerton’s concerns were brutally exposed. A self-fulfilling prophecy who had been obsessed with scoring an embarrassing week for weeks said he would not be able to return for the second round after shooting 88 on opening day by officials.

Yet it was this new low that marked a turning point for Brewerton.

“It was weird, it was almost like a relief once it happened,” Brewerton said.

“I didn’t have to obsess about it anymore because the worst had happened and voila, nothing terrible happened – I was still alive, I was still healthy.

“You set it up like ‘you’re never going to be able to do anything again’ and then as soon as you realize, ‘okay, that’s it, now is the time to move on.

Brewerton during the RACV Ladies' Masters at the Royal Pines Resort in Australia in 2016.

In Brewerton’s own words, he had hit rock bottom.

He worked at Amazon, Deliveroo, and a golf club’s pro shop, playing only a few events over the next few years. Because he had nowhere to live, he stayed with a friend and a former physical trainer for two and a half years.

Despite his struggles in the game, Brewerton never gave up on his love of golf.

Working at other jobs served as a “reality check”, offering perspective on how lucky he felt to be a professional athlete. With doubts lingering, Brewerton was revived to start over.

Paradoxically, that meant less golf.

Looking back, Brewerton believes he was guilty of overtraining at the expense of working on the mental side of his game. By reducing their tournament participation, she began keeping a journal and meditating, as well as working with a performance coach and being sometimes brutally honest.

“Sometimes it’s hard to be extremely honest because it’s sad, so it’s hard to talk about,” she said. “I had to sort of get over the embarrassment of being afraid of being upset in front of others, if you will.

“It takes a long time to change your thought process because in the depths of your mind you don’t think you’re very good or if you’re having a hard time with yourself, you can’t just turn it off. If you could, anyone could.

“Look, my golf got a lot better because I was practicing less and not causing my body a lot of pain and actually healing the part that made the biggest difference.”

Brewerton is enjoying tournament golf more than ever.

After returning to LET qualifying school to regain his tour card, Brewerton found himself enjoying tournament golf again at the end of 2021.

Returning from an event in November, Brewerton said, ‘How did I get so bad at golf?’ He started working on a blog post titled

As the rejuvenated golfer was stunned by the echoes of similar experiences among other golfers, the response was overwhelming.

Comfortably amongst the top 20 ranked players on the LET, Brewerton is enjoying his best season in a decade, with three finishes in the top 10 highlighting a rush to make it to the top 25.

Brewerton hugs a player at Scandinavian Mixed at Halmstad Golf Club in Sweden in June.

While dreaming of returning to silverware, the 39-year-old is aiming for success beyond wins.

“Deep down, I would love for that to happen. But the bad thing is, if I start obsessing about it, then I know that’s the path that took me to those dark places in the first place,” he said.

“Weird, sports. You live for those moments when you’re in stressful situations and yet when you get there, sometimes you interpret it as a nervous feeling that you don’t want, or you feel all the big adrenaline pumps and you start to doubt. although it’s the only reason you put all the work you’ve done in the first place even if it means being in that position.

“So I promised myself absolutely, wholeheartedly, that I wouldn’t interpret this feeling as a bad thing, because that’s what we live for.”

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