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Denis Walsh: Putting up with the golf business is a soulful struggle for most players

As the cases of many gifted Irish golfers show, the demands of professional sport can be a heavy albatross around young necks

Towards the end of last week, before Jon Rahm gallantly rescued his family from the breadline, and shortly after the rumoured divorce of Tiger Woods and Nike – golf’s original power couple – Victor Dubuisson announced his retirement in a tender interview with L’Equipe.

At just 32 years of age the Frenchman had come to the end of his tether. His last tournament appearance was in September, when he withdrew from the BMW at Wentworth after the opening round. A week earlier he had done the same thing at the Irish Open, signing for dispiriting 77s on both days. The game had worn him down.

“The solitude had become extremely heavy,” he told L’Equipe. “I spent 15 years alone on the tour, curled up on myself. I missed contact with people. So it’s just simple human relationships around golf that I want to have.”

Dubuisson was a rookie on the European Ryder Cup team that Paul McGinley led to victory at Gleneagles, nine years ago. To forge connections McGinley made it his business to drill into the personalities of his players, but in that respect Dubuisson was elusive; on tour he kept to himself and was basically a mystery to everyone.


To push beyond the mask McGinley visited Dubuisson and his family, spending three days in their company – like something Daniel Day Lewis would do. During that deep dive he discovered that Dubuisson had three close friends who McGinley could tell were his support network, even though they had nothing to do with golf.

So, for the week of the Ryder Cup, McGinley arranged for Dubuisson’s friends to stay in the team hotel and have access inside the ropes. On the course, he selected Graeme McDowell to be his sherpa and in three matches that week Dubuisson was unbeaten.

Dubuisson never again played in the Ryder Cup, but he won twice on the DP World Tour, reached the final of the world match play, and amassed over €10 million in prize money. The feeling throughout his career was that Dubuisson had not fulfilled his talent, but the judgements we make about sportspeople are often superficial and glib. If he was never happy in that environment, if he felt alone and isolated, how could he have played his best golf?

Anyway, how many sportspeople fulfil their potential? And who decides where the threshold lies?

Everyone knows how brutally hard it is to make it in professional golf, but that part of the game is mostly out of sight and we don’t dwell on it. Our attention instead is consumed by the Wolf of Wall Street spectacle at the top of the game and the venality and the obscene greed and the moral vacuum. For the vast majority of professional players finding a footing anywhere on the ladder is a cold, gruelling, remorseless business.

The Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team from 2015 is a very small case study. GB&I thrashed the United States with five Irish players on the team, more than there had ever been before. All of them turned professional: Paul Dunne, Gary Hurley, Gavin Moynihan, Cormac Sharvin and Jack Hume.

Eight years later, how has it been for them? By the time the Walker Cup was played that September, Dunne had already been a sensation, leading the British Open going into the final day and recording the lowest ever 54-hole score for an amateur. Two years later he won his first tournament on the DP World Tour and the future was a blue sky.

Of all the talented young Irish players in that group, he was the one most likely to be a star. Dunne’s form, though, was slaughtered by an injury in 2019, and since then his career has been gripped in a downward spiral. On the Challenge Tour this year he finished 258th.

On the same rankings Cormac Sharvin finished 219th. When Rahm won the Irish Open at Lahinch in 2019 Sharvin was tied for 15th – the highest finish by an Irish player that week – but in 80 appearances on the DP World Tour that is still his best result.

Gary Hurley made 12 appearances on the DP World Tour this year, amassing less than €42,000 in prize money from four cuts made. Gavin Moynihan missed most of the season, only returning for an unsuccessful tilt at Q school. His world ranking has fallen to 2,491.

And Jack Hume? His last appearance on the Challenge Tour was in June 2018. Before that he had already taken a year out. “He just couldn’t get his head in the right place,” his agent said in July 2017. “He had been so intensely invested in golf over the past few years that when it came time to get started again, he couldn’t get himself mentally right.”

Four of them have hit their 30s; Moynihan is 29. Is it not too late to make a leap; six years ago, when he was 30, Seamus Power still hadn’t cracked it. But professional golf is a merciless grind and the game keeps taking. Dunne racked up more than €3 million in prize money when he was going well, but all of the others have made only fractions of that amount.

John Murphy came later. A star of the 2021 Walker Cup, Murphy made a stunning start on tour, finishing in the top 10 at the Dunhill Links within weeks of turning pro. During this year, though, he experienced similar feelings to Hume and stepped off the carousel for a while.

“I am grateful for the life that I live,” he wrote on Instagram, “and for the way we are treated on tour. With this has come a lot of added stresses and demands. Over recent months golf has felt like a job for me when it has always felt like a passion. I have lost the sense of enthusiasm I have always had for the game and this in turn has taken away my enjoyment of playing.”

Murphy returned for the second half of the season and missed eight cuts in a row. His talent is as brilliant as it ever was, but golf will question that every day. To survive he must find answers, from somewhere. He knows. They all know.

If professional golf has any soul left, the soul is in the struggle.