Golf and Life and Death Too

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A day at my desk Thursday was a welcome opportunity. Believe it or not, our time at work is not always downtime. I was looking forward to catching up, scanning the golf weeklies, returning phone calls, reading e-mails etc. My day changed in a hurry, however, when I was given the newest issue of Golf World.
 
Had you heard of Michael Christie? Maybe you did, maybe not. He was born June 25, 1969. Tragically, he took his life with a single gunshot to the head at his parents home in Greenville, S.C., on April 22, 2004.
 
Just like that - the promise of resurrecting a once-promising PGA Tour career was gone.
 
As the obituary tells it, Christie, who attended the University of South Carolina in the early 1990s before rocketing up the ranks toward the life hed worked so hard for, was prepping for a lesson with his teacher in hopes of finding his way again on the Nationwide Tour.
 
Michael Christie won four times on the Nationwide Tour in the '90s, including his hometown Greater Greenville Classic during a spectacular three win season in 1996.
 
Stewart Cink led the money list that year. Christie finished second and earned his PGA Tour card.
 
After a successful PGA Tour rookie season in which he made more than $200,000 and finished among the tours top 125, things really changed.
 
He suffered one injury after another (back, shoulder, sinuses, etc.) and one missed cut after another (PGA Tour/Nationwide Tour, etc.) And as the story goes, one painkiller after another which ultimately took him down a road he struggled to navigate.
 
From 1998 until the day his story found a terribly sad conclusion, Christie made little more than $35,000 in PGA Tour sanctioned events.
 
I remember Christie. I saw him play on both tours. He had fantastic skills and a tremendous confidence in his ability. I interviewed Christie. He had a way about him that could rub you the wrong way, yet he could also seem upbeat and excited about the chance to talk about his day. And he certainly gave me a strong sense that he respected the game and its demands.
 
Apparently though, Christie was shooting for the stars under a dark cloud of unrelenting depression attached to the struggles of trying to reach golf stardom himself.
 
Very sadly, Michael Christie is gone. Only he knows for sure the reasons why.
 
But I really cant believe it. And I believe that in losing him, weve now gained a bit of insight into Tour life that might change the way we perceive golf at its highest level.
 
These guys and gals might be living the life we as golf fanatics would all like to live. But it isnt always as we think. When theyre not playing the game, theyre thinking the game. When they leave the course, its not always easy to leave the mental load behind.
 
Those who are lucky enough to be among their respective tours very elite dont worry about keeping their card, but there is always something to occupy the mind. As for those who find themselves on the bubble of exemption each year, well, they find themselves in a world of insecurity. Itll all change when I get that top-5 finish, they probably say to themselves. Just one good week, and Ill be able to settle down and relax a bit.
 
And in the case of a guy like Christie, heaven forbid injury halts progress and stalls the confidence. Heaven forbid a bout with depression becomes a weight that cant be lifted.

Make no mistake - the life of a professional golfer, while potentially profitable beyond ones dreams, is a never-ending pressure-cooker. GRIND is a good word.
 
No one really knows what drove Christie to the point of putting an end to his life, but on the day that I sat at my desk, looking to take a bit of a breather, I found myself thankful that I do what I do. Im also a bit more sympathetic now to the plight of every golfer who dares to dream of being like Tiger, or Phil, or Annika. Remember, nothing is given without it being earned by good play. There are no guaranteed contracts for the likes of a Michael Christie.
 
The message to myself - Be darn careful what you ask for. Dont strive for more than you can realistically handle. If you ever get it, appreciate it. Spend as much time quietly patting yourself on the back for your achievements as you do working hard to go even higher. Never take it for granted. And if it ever slips away, consider yourself a success simply for having reached your goals ' if even for the shortest of time.
 
I never played on the PGA Tour, or any other professional circuit. But having spent much of my professional life talking with athletes - and golfers in particular - Im wondering if Michael Christies quiet moments before that fatal gunshot were much different from those dealt with by other tour professionals at some time or another.
 
Are they so single-minded in their quest that they dont often enough stop to smell the roses? Is there a fear that competitive golf is all I know, and thus it becomes too hard to search for happiness outside the game? In other words, is ones perception of a worthwhile life based more on the outcome of each days score than on what goes on around each days round of golf?
 
I was talking with a PGA Tour player the other day who, in a rather serious moment, confessed to me, Im really struggling right now with the job of being a professional golfer. For that matter, he continued, Im struggling even more with being a father and also a husband.
 
Think about that the next time you hear someone quip of how great it must be. Think about Michael Christies personal struggles too.
 
Obviously, tour golfers are really no different than anyone when it comes to dealing with lifes tough times. And yes, they've chosen the life they lead. But, now more apparent to me than ever before, golf as a life, is a life thats pretty tough to keep in its proper perspective.
 
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