Dean Robertson has been out of the game he loves for almost a year, experiencing a clinical depression that almost caused him to give up golf completely. ScottishGolf met up with him at Wentworth for a no-holds barred honest chat.
SG: How much do you want to talk about the fact that you've been away for a bit?
DR: Not really; I've talked about it quite a lot really. If you wanted to talk about it wouldn't bother me but I'd prefer; I don't have qualms talking about it but I'd rather focus on my golf just now.
SG: Was it endogenous or reactive depression?
DR: What do you mean?
SG: Reactive is in response to external events, like losing a job or being bereaved; endogenous comes from within, for no obvious external reason.
DR: I think it was a little bit of both. I don't really know if you can pinpoint it to one thing but certainly it was difficult times; something that I wasn't really expecting but having said that it's changed me for the experience and probably for the better. I wouldn't wish it on anyone but a lot of people suffer and people are pretty unsympathetic towards it. Initially you feel a little bit ashamed to talk about but to be honest with you now I don't really care what anyone else thinks.
'I really pretty well understand it, know what's going on and that's past me now and I'm able to look forward. I think looking back and drawing on it helps. It's still vivid in my memory.'
SG: A place you don't want to go back to?
DR: I've got a good balance and good positive outlook now and this week's really exciting for me. Last night - I've got a bit of a cold but I was waking up in the middle of the night and I was really excited to be coming back to Wentworth today - and that's on a Monday to play a practice round [for the Volvo PGA Championship].
SG: You were just walking up here saying how great the course was - one of your two favourite inland layouts, and how good you feel. Is it possible that when you go through an experience like that that it puts the mundane, everyday concerns into perspective?
DR: Absolutely. To be honest with you, as important and a big part of my life that golf is, it's only a game and it really does put things into perspective. I've got people around me; friends of the family who are seriously ill and at the end of the day, if you have a good day that's great but if you have a bad round of golf, then there's always tomorrow; there's always another round and it's not the end of the world. So I've got a fresh and positive outlook on it and I'm looking forward to it and I think I'll be able to handle golf's ups and downs - and it can happen so quickly - and I'd be surprised if I didn't have a smile on my face for most of this week.
'If I hit terrible shots I really don't care and if I hit great shots I'm really enthused. If I hit a bad shot now, the attitude is "what the hell; go and look onto the next one". I'm trying to look to the present and the future now rather than looking over my shoulder.
SG: You say it's only a game and it's okay for amateurs to say that but for you it's also your livelihood; it's much more than that for you.
DR: Yes and no. It was the only thing in my life until about seven months ago when I formed a partnership with John Pates and we developed Golf Minds as a company. We do corporate events and have spent six months developing an educational golf CD-Rom which will be out very soon. I've done after-dinner speaking, coaching, golf packages, so it really has brought a lot of balance to my life and being on the golf course and competing is what I do best. But learning business skills has been a massive learning curve and been a great grounding and a reminder that golf is only a game.
'We golfers lead a really charmed life and the real world is a hell of a difficult thing to cope with - and now I realise just how difficult. And now having a balance between business and professional golf is healthy and is something I'm excited about. I'm as equally excited about the business side of things as I am about golf - except you don't get as nervous or as frustrated. And that's given me a balance so that when I come away from the golf I've got other things to do and attend to and it allows you to switch off
'And that's one of the things I wasn't able to do in the past and that compounds the illness of depression; especially in golf when you feel that everyone is watching you. It's difficult to be in the spotlight all the time when you can't hide how you're feeling and that's a reason I had to get away from it. But in doing so, I had a decision to make. I didn't want to play golf again because of the way I was feeling a year past March.
'After September I made the decision to either get out of golf completely and go into further education or use the knowledge I've gained over 25 years and move forward from there and that's what I've chosen to do; to delete everything and put a line under golf wouldn't have been the right thing to do.
SG: How near did you come to walking away from the game?
DR: I definitely didn't expect to be here this year playing. It's only through Golf Minds and doing the CD-Rom with John - it talks about golf and emotions and how to control your nerves, develop confidence. It was drawing on my experiences both as an amateur and professional and John gives it the theory and techniques to use so there's a double-edged sword in every chapter. And re-living some of my experiences like here at Wentworth, which has a lot of great memories for me, and winning the Italian Open, winning many amateur events.
'You start thinking about that and it really spurs you on and you remember how it felt, what the weather was like, the crowds and so on and that was what really brought back the zest and the enthusiasm for it. I think if I hadn't done that I probably wouldn't be here this week but I still didn't pick up a club until two months ago.
SG: And how long an absence had there been?
DR: About 10 months without hitting a golf ball.
SG: At this level you're talking fractions between great golf and mediocrity so to take 10 months out must have been really tough.
DR: You don't expect to do well so coming to a flagship event like this; if the ground was soft you might get away with it a bit but this week you ain't going to get away with anything so I'm right in at the deep end. The course is going to be tough, the rough's up, no hiding places but I'm looking forward to it. And really there's no pressure on me whatsoever. Nobody's expecting me to do well - I'm something ridiculous with the bookies to make the cut but actually I'm hitting the ball quite well.
SG: That's the impression I got watching you over a few holes
DR: Yes; I'm hitting it well and enjoying myself. And coming back here is probably my favourite golf course and you play holes and remember how you've played certain holes in the past and I've got great feelings about this course any time I play and if I made the cut this week I would be absolutely delighted and I think it would be an incredible achievement. I'm not going to set myself any goals; all I want to do is try and play as well as I can play. I've got no gauge. I played in a couple of EuroPro events and it wasn't to see how good my game was but to see how I felt coming back to golf, and I really enjoyed it. I made the cut in the first one and I missed the cut by plenty in the second one but I had a great time and really enjoyed it.
'It was through lack of competitive practice that I was shooting the numbers I was shooting and not because I'm not hitting the ball well. I'm hitting it pretty okay and it's just a matter of tightening a few things up so I'm here on Monday and will play three practice rounds - not something I would normally do but I think it's vital to get as many rounds in as I can on a tough golf course. And again I'll do the same next week because I just haven't been playing on championship courses.
SG: Have you had chance yet to gauge reaction from your peers; other pros?
DR: I made a point of coming down to the Forest of Arden for the British Masters and I went onto the range and met a lot of them and that kind of got that out of the way rather than doing it today. And it's been great to see them, really, really good. They've all been brilliant, saying things like: "Good to see you back you've been missed" and it's nice that you're held in that regard.
SG: But because pro sport in any arena is such a hard environment, in many ways they won't tiptoe around, they'll take the mickey and after a while don't you get fed up of people not mentioning the reason why you've been away.
DR: I haven't had anyone; that'll begin tomorrow when the money games start
SG: What, 'don't get down about it?'
DR: No, they'll not say that but it's more likely to be stuff like "you were never right in the heed in the first place."
SG: Isn't that better?
DR: Yes, I would do the same. I've got thick skin and if you give it out you've got to be able to take it and I give it out plenty when I'm in practice and we have a good camaraderie. I welcome that, especially when you're back to 100%.
SG: Or when you're playing Coltart for money?
DR: Actually it's Gary Orr, Stephen Gallacher and Alastair Forsyth; so there'll be a bit of niggle in there.
SG: Especially when there's money involved?
DR: Oh aye. I've been away and I need to start earning a living again so I need to start taking some of their hard-earned cash. I'm hoping they give me a few shots.
SG: Are you on a medical exemption this season now?
DR: Yes. I played in 10 or 11 events last year and made about 102,000 euros and the cut-off mark for the year was about 162 so I need to make about 60 odd euros in 13 events this year to regain my full playing privileges. The Tour has been exceptionally supportive of me. I didn't in any way expect it. To be honest with you at the time the clubs just got put away and other than my putter there isn't any club in my bag now that's the same. Those clubs are a past memory. So today I'm using new clubs, a new ball; don't know how far I'm hitting it. Honest to God I don't have a clue; that's why I was hitting three or four shots out there because I'm trying to gauge how far I'm hitting it. I'm working a lot with my caddie and we're trying different clubs, different shots. We're trying to get the distances right but to be honest (leans in) I'm guessing.
SG: Was that completely fresh start necessary?
DR: Yes, I think so, definitely. I've gone from being a Nike player to being almost completely a Callaway player. The Callaway clubs are a little bit more forgiving and given the amount of time I've had off I thought that I need to have something that's as easy to hit as possible, you know. Game improvement's good in my book.
SG: You strike me as being a fairly private person.
DR: Well, I suppose you like to be private but is there such a thing when you're a professional golf player? Everything you do is pretty well documented so I think it's important to keep a part of your life separate. Being away, I've really enjoyed being back home in Scotland and I've played a lot of social golf with my friends and really just recaptured the essence of the game. If I came off Tour before I would have just put the clubs away and have a break but it's been great to play with my father, my brother and my friends and they're all good players and it's just back to your roots, you know?
SG: It sounds as if you've fallen in love with the game again
DR: Well, ask me that on Friday night but at the moment, yes, that's what Dermott (Byrne, caddy) said to me. He said: "Listen, you might be treating this a bit carefree at the moment but I'll remind you next week, and in a month's time, when the clubs are getting walloped."
But what's the worst thing that can happen; no-one's going to run on and kick your ball off the tee or green or cover the hole up - well, it hasn't happened to me yet. No-one will shout at you if you hit a bad shot. That's my new philosophy anyway, to try and adopt a more relaxed nature on and around the golf course.
SG: There is a masochistic element about golfers - we remember all the bad bounces and never the good, tend to be harsh on ourselves if we don't hit a shot perfectly. It is an unusual environment in which to make a living.
DR: The best global player in the world, other than Tiger, is Ernie Els, and he's got the best attitude of any player I've ever seen, in any sport.
SG: It helps if you're hugely talented
DR: Yes, and he is; there's no doubt about that. He's the bees knees. But he's just got a great nature about him, on and off the course. And that's just not with his world-class peers but to pretty well anyone. He's got a great manner and if I was going to try and emulate anyone it would be him. And he's got a great balance in his life. I don't know him that well but it strikes me that he can sit back and have a couple of beers; he relaxes with friends, plays social golf, watches cricket...
SG: And treats kings and paupers just the same
DR: Absolutely. He's got a great family and yes, he's got houses all over the world but he's got a balance and he's comfortable with it and that keeps his enthusiasm up. There are some who are the opposite and very intense and beating themselves up all the time and I would have been that person pretty much but not any more - I'm going to make it my point not to.
SG: Have you been surprised at how well you've been hitting the ball and how much of your game is still there?
DR: Well, we'll wait and see how I perform when the gun goes off because you're always going to get a little bit tighter and have a bit more adrenaline but I'm working hard on staying relaxed and enjoying myself and I don't think there's a better policy for me right now than to go out there and have fun and that's pretty much what I'm going to do, have fun. And it's even more fun if you do well but that's just a double whammy, isn't it?
SG: Do you have any superstitions to do with golf or anything else?
DR: No. It's not a Scottish thing; they're too pragmatic and practical aren't they?
SG: Where do you rate Troon in the Open rota?
DR: I really enjoy Troon but I think it's got a savage back nine; arguably the toughest in world golf. I really enjoy it but they've made a lot of changes to the front nine I believe with new bunkers and new tees. Why are you asking me, I'm not in the Open.
SG: Still chances though
DR: Okay. I'm a lover of links in general. I really like the challenge and the different shots but there's going to be a lot of links shots on this course this week.
SG: Because it's firm, fast and running?
DR: Sure, so to win this week players are going to have to have a good short game; definitely. And the rough, you witnessed yourself a couple of places on the right of 17 and some spots are just unplayable.
SG: Well you hit two shots; one was holed and the other barely moved 10 yards
DR: Yes, it's really penal but quite fair so the course is playing well.
SG: What are the strengths and weaknesses of your game generally when you're on song?
DR: My strength is undoubtedly my putting; it's normally excellent - although I haven't putted on greens as quick as this for 14 months, even longer than that. They're super fast, stimping at eleven and a half and this only Monday. That's quick and they're having to spray water on them around the loop and they'll barely put enough water on them to keep them alive. It's going to be tough and I'll just fire for old man par.
SG: Where do you stand on the long putter debate; would you ban them?
DR: I would ban them, yes. It's definitely rekindled a number of careers but putting's tough. It might be the simplest part of the game but it's also one of the most difficult, especially on surfaces like this. There's so much touch, feel and imagination involved, not just a sound technique. To just anchor the club takes away a lot of the feel.
SG: And as Ernie Els said recently, nerves are a part of the game
DR: There's no doubt who's the number one over the last 12 months - Vijay Singh. Now don't get me wrong, Vijay can play with the best, the very best. But he couldn't putt with the best of them using the short stick. He can now. He would be gone - no, not gone but if it wasn't for the long putter he wouldn't be in the top two or three in the world. He's still good enough to be top-15 or 20 but not three. Look at Woods, Mickelson and Els, all beautiful putters.
'Okay, Woods is just slightly off the boil at the moment but not by much - he's playing as bad as we've ever seen him and yet competing to win tournaments; it's ridiculous. He's about to turn it around. Personally, if he ate humble pie and went back to Butch Harmon I could see him doing it in a matter of days and weeks. We don't know what goes on behind the scenes but I think a lot of people would agree with that. But he, Mickelson, Els are great putters, and so's Davis Love.
SG: I also think this young guy Chad Campbell's a special talent
DR: Among the young guys I'm very surprised by Adam Scott - I know he's cooled off a little bit - but I watched him win the Players' Championship and thought "My God, he's about to set the world alight" but he's kind of taken his foot off the gas a little. I'm fully expecting him to come back and when he does it next time he's not going to back off again. There's not many who have the game to take all the others on and go past them but he has.
SG: Who are the young talents, especially Scottish players, you think might come through. For example, I think Steven O'Hara has a lot of potential.
DR: Yes he does but you know, the one I see with the most potential who's starting to show levels of consistency - and I've always rated him, even when he was a wee chubby boy - is Stephen Gallacher. I first played with him when he was 15 or 16 when I won the Scottish youths title. He was a wee red-haired boy who was hitting it all over the place but he had a short game to die for and he was a great putter. He's now using the belly putter too and it's turned his game around but potentially he's got what it takes to go into the top-50 in the world. He's got finesse, length and all the attributes. He can putt too, although he'll tell you he couldnae putt with the short putter but [smiling] that's a lot of rubbish.
'There are a couple of young South African kids, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen [who won the World Junior Team Championships together in 2000] who look awfully good.
SG: Does it frighten you to see these young kids who seem to have the game for everything in their early 20s?
DR: No, I think it's good. I like to see them. When we saw the two Australian super-kids come out a few years ago, namely Aaron Baddeley and Adam Scott. Baddeley was initially doing better but you didn't need to be a rocket scientist to look and see the potential that Scott had. Personally I think he's a better player and although Baddeley might dispute that I don't think many of the golfing journalist would.
SG: Now would the rankings.
DR: No. He's a different class of player, isn't he? He's absolutely world class. The Australians just bring them on - Peter Lonard, for example, is doing well in the States. And the one who's doing immensely well is Stephen Leaney. And then there's Appleby, Allenby - I don't know what they're doing down there but they're doing something right.
'Us Brits, we really haven't, not since Faldo, had anyone to take on the world. Paul Casey now looks as if he'll be the one to light it up; he's got it all. Lee Westwood last year lit it up again and is more than capable of doing that at any time. Justin Rose and Poulter are others I think are doing really well. I mean, Rose was a wonder-kid and it's just taken him a little bit of time to consolidate on that.
SG: I think losing his father knocked him back a lot.
DR: Definitely. It was a big blow - his father, Ken, was a lovely man. It must be just horrendous but his father would be proud of him, he's done phenomenally well and he's placid and modest with it. I like Poulter a lot, I think he's great for the game. He's very flash and extravagant.
SG: Well, with things like "I don't do nervous" he comes out with some great lines.
DR: Yeh, but that's a lot of shite; everyone gets nervous.
SG: Two Tour wins and a Major, which ones would you choose?
DR: I'd go for the British Open, the Volvo PGA Championship and the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.
SG: But if you could only achieve them by being so focussed and self-centred that you had to become, for want of a better word, a bastard, would you?
DR: I probably wouldn't do it, not now.
SG: But a couple of years ago?
DR: Yes, definitely. I don't think you have to be like that to win any more. I'm not calling Nick Faldo a bastard by any stretch of the imagination...
SG: No, that was my word.
DR: But that was his philosophy. Single-minded and focused are the words he'd probably use, and he wouldn't let anything distract him.
SG: And things like walking onto the [practice] range and deliberately not talking to anyone, because he wanted them to be intimidated?
DR: You know, I spoke to Roger Chapman this morning; he and Jamie Spence welcomed me onto the range and he said: "Welcome back Dean, you've been sorely missed." I said "that's really nice" and he said "Tuesday nights haven't been the same without you." I said: "What are you insinuating, that I like Tuesday nights?" and Roger said: "Well, you were always good for a wee singsong now and again," which is true. I said "Are you trying to tell me it's not the case any more?" and he said "No it's not, so we're really glad you're back."
Amen to that.
|| 28 - JUNE 2004