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




CNN

unworthy Scared impostor

From two-time Ladies European Tour (LET) winner to Wales’ first-ever Solheim Cup player, there were many ways viewers could label Becky Brewerton in 2012, but none came close to the way she described herself.

First a formidable amateur, for eight years Brewerton toured the world competing at the pinnacle of professional women’s golf. Then, almost overnight, his game disappeared.

He became an elusive, then non-existent, regular top 10 finisher, and as Brewerton’s ranking dropped, so did his income. Soon without a place to live or a car, he delivered packages and takeout, all but abandoning the faint hope of a professional golf career.

How does an elite athlete who has spent countless hours honing his craft suddenly find himself paralyzed by fear and anxiety every time he competes? And more importantly, how do they overcome that fear of returning to the top level years later?

In January 2012, Brewerton was enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon before deciding to go cycling in Spain. A small stone in a corner later, the 29-year-old was flying headlong over the handlebars, his hip banging against the curb.

Cutting off his head and ripping off half the skin on his right hand, the accident was so severe that it left an indentation around his hip joint for his entire thumb to fit through.

Yet two weeks later, looking more like a recently defeated boxer than a golfer, a bruised Brewerton limped onto a plane to Australia to play a series of events underneath.

Four events, four missed cuts: the normally consistent Welshwoman quickly found herself drowning in unfamiliar shapes, and unfamiliar feelings.

Standing on top of the ball, his head and limbs would, seemingly on a whim and with increasing regularity, completely disconnect.

Approaching the first tee, Brewerton would often be greeted with clenched chests and pounding hearts as the task of hitting the ball where he wanted it became downright daunting.

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

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

“I closed my eyes and the whole time it was like the cars were going a thousand kilometers an hour, I couldn’t think straight, if I had thought clearly, I realized something was wrong and instead of continuing to do something I could try.”

    Brewerton pulls off her jersey at the 2013 Women's World Championship in China.

While he believes it was a mistake to return to the game so soon after that ill-fated bike ride, for Brewerton, as he reflects on his psychological struggles, he admits that even when he was basking in his success, not everything felt right.

Already breaking out as European Ladies Amateur champion in 2002, finishing runner-up in two LET events at the age of 16, Brewerton was battling self-doubt.

Two Tour victories in 2007 and 2009 did little to quell such feelings. Although she made history in those years by reaching the pinnacle of the women’s game, representing Europe twice at the Solheim Cup, Brewerton’s inner struggle continued.

“Because I didn’t talk about it at the time, there was a part of me that thought, ‘I’m weird or I’m weird,’ or people will think I’m weird if I say anything.

“I thought, ‘one day this is all going to go wrong.’ My biggest fear was not knowing I could be the player I wanted to be.

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

“Even in the tournaments I won, I enjoyed it, of course, but there was a part of me that always felt: ‘Did I deserve it? How did I do that?’, because I didn’t believe I couldn’t.

“And then all of a sudden it’s like it’s getting bigger and building, and one day it was like the glass got a little too full and it all broke.”

European teammates Gwladys Nocera (L) and Brewerton (R) after defeating the US pair at the 2009 Solheim Cup in Rich Harvest Farms, Illinois.

Brewerton traces its roots back to childhood, where an ingrained “go for it” attitude overrode thoughts of asking for help.

When golf became a full-time occupation, his sense of self became precariously tied to results.

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

“Nobody ever asks how you’re doing, so your whole identity is feeding the narrative of whether you’re playing well or not.”

This connection was devastating as Brewerton’s form went into free fall.

After scoring five top-10 finishes in the LET in 2011, he would achieve the same feat only three times in the following nine seasons, none after 2014.

At the 2016 Ladies European Masters, all of Brewerton’s anxieties came to the fore. After weeks of obsessing over shooting an embarrassing score, a self-fulfilling prophecy told him he couldn’t go back for the second round after shooting an 88 on opening day.

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

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

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

“You build these things, ‘you’ll never be able to do anything again,’ and as soon as it happens, you realize, ‘okay, that’s it, now’s the time to move on.'”

2016 Australian RACV Ladies Masters at Brewerton Royal Pines Resort.

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

Playing a handful of events over the next few years, he worked for Amazon, Deliveroo and the pro shop at a golf club. Homeless, he stayed with a friend and former physical trainer for two and a half years.

Despite his struggles in the game, Brewerton never fell out of love with golf.

Working other jobs acted as a “reality check,” providing perspective on how lucky he was to be a professional athlete. While there were doubts, Brewerton was energized to start again.

Paradoxically, that meant less golf.

In retrospect, Brewerton believes he was often guilty of overtraining at the expense of working on the mental side of his game. Cutting back on tournament appearances, she began journaling and meditating, as well as working, and sometimes being brutally honest, with a performance coach.

“Sometimes it’s hard to be deadly honest because it’s heartbreaking, so it’s hard to talk about,” she said. “I kind of had to overcome the shame of being afraid of being angry in front of others, if you will.

“It takes a long time to change your thought process, because if deep down you don’t think you’re very good or you’re beating yourself up, you can’t just turn it off. If you can do it, everyone could do it.

“Lo and behold, my golf improved a lot because I was practicing less and I wasn’t hurting my body as much and I was healing the part that really made the biggest difference.”

Brewerton is enjoying championship golf more than ever.

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

Back from an event in November, Brewerton worked on the blog: ‘How did I become so bad at golf?’

The response was emphatic, with the young golfer stunned by the echo of similar experiences among his fellow golfers.

Comfortably inside the top 20 players on the LET, Brewerton is enjoying his best season in a decade, with three top-10 finishes, highlighted by a slew of top-25 finishes.

Brewerton embraced a Scandinavian Mixed player at Sweden's Halmstad Golf Club in June.

While he dreams of returning to silversmithing, the 39-year-old aims for success beyond winning.

“Deep down, I would love for that to happen. But on the other hand, if I start obsessing about it, I know that this is the path that led me to those dark places in the first place,” he said.

“It’s strange, sport. You live for those moments when you’re in those pressure situations, and yet when you get there, sometimes you interpret it as an unwanted feeling of nervousness or you get all the big adrenaline pumps and you start to doubt yourself. yourself, even though the whole reason you put in all the work you do in the first place is to be in that position.

“So, absolutely, hand to heart, I’ve promised myself that I’m not going to interpret that feeling as a bad thing, because that’s what we live for.”