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Nothing Will Ever Replace The Feeling Of Millions Of People Watching Me

It's been a daily battle fighting not to become another statistic.

22/02/2017 11:04 AM AEDT | Updated 22/02/2017 11:05 AM AEDT
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That winning feeling on the 72nd hole of the 2010 South Georgia Classic.

For almost four years, it's been a daily battle fighting not to become another statistic.

My story, unfortunately, is one shared by thousands. The majority of the time, including with yours truly, the battle is either self-inflicted or at the very least shaped by decisions made early on in the professional sporting career.

While I never achieved the status of sporting royalty, I did encounter success on the international stage. I rubbed shoulders, regularly, with A-List celebrities and billionaire CEOs.

Like many other professional athletes, my life consisted of frequent international travel, the occasional six-figure check, being fawned over by crowds and usually most conversations revolved around me due to the intrigue and mystique of my chosen profession. With the addition of social media, it was quite easy for those on the outside to perceive my life as pretty awesome.

What happens when this is all taken away from you and it's the only thing you've ever known?

Gradually, my life became one big fishbowl.

Upon leaving High School in 2000, my one and only dream was to be a professional golfer. Absolutely no thought was given to a 'Plan B'. This mindset, and approach to one's sporting career, is all too common.

Technically, I am still a professional golfer. This title is one I will never relinquish, and one I still very proudly uphold.

My full-time professional golf career saw me travel to six continents, 40+ countries, 47 US states, win on PGA Tours in Australia and the United States live on international television, tee it up in three British Open championships and spend over a decade based overseas.

Warren Little via Getty Images
Teeing off during the first round of the 139th Open Championship on the Old Course, St Andrews on July 15, 2010 in St Andrews, Scotland.

But what happens when this is all taken away from you and it's the only thing you've ever known?

This is something I've had to endure since 2013, when I decided to walk away from my 12-year tenure as a touring professional on the global golfing stage.

Let me reiterate that every decision, all the adversity and uncertainty I have faced, is on me. I would, however, like to highlight my own journey and the fickle nature of what professional sport entails.

The final two years of my golfing career, 2011-2013, were a constant struggle. It seemed the harder I tried, the worse things got. While a lot of the earlier naivety and stubbornness had been replaced with a desire to learn and listen, too many demons had surfaced to fully recover. Along the way, I had stumbled across other interests that I was keen to explore.

With the stark realisation that I had spent one-third of my life not preparing for two-thirds of my life, I was scared. Really scared.

In golf, as is the case in all sports, you are judged by your results. Play well = win and get paid handsomely. Play poorly = lose and walk home empty-handed. Nobody to blame but yourself.

But even the bad days weren't really so bad. Okay, so you work hard for a week and don't get paid -- the opportunity was always there to make up for it the following week by earning a six or seven-figure check. In addition, you're in a foreign city in which you're free to go and explore.

This perspective, generally, isn't how a professional athlete views the situation at the time.

So when I decided to hang up my golf clubs four years ago, I resolved to embark on a journey that would be purely subjective and whereby my talents were to be deciphered by others -- this is something I am still endeavoring to deal with.

I loved writing and harbored an even greater passion to become a television presenter. Courtesy of golf, I had been given a taste of both opportunities during my playing days.

Golf Channel
Appearance on the Gold Channel, Orlando, Florida in 2015.

However, a lingering question remained: "Will either of these jobs ever replace the feeling of holing the winning putt in front of millions watching around the world?" Most probably not. "Will either of these jobs earn me a check of $153,000 for one week?" Most probably not.

I have a very close friend who won a Super Bowl and was also named MVP many years ago. He reached the pinnacle of his sport and yet has spoken on numerous occasions of the difficulties both he and his teammates have suffered since retiring.

When you're performing well and in the spotlight, people simply can't do enough for you. Media are constantly hounding you for interviews and photo shoots. The public are screaming for your autograph.

Then, just as quickly, you become a forgotten identity.

One minute you're hounded, the next minute you're reaching out to those same people only to not receive any feedback.

For four long years now, I have re-written the definition of networking. The majority of the time, I never hear back. Sometimes, it's a polite rejection. Other times, there's a real buzz of excitement in the air, only for things to gradually fizzle out following multiple meetings.

Two TV shows green-lit by networks in Australia and the United States, only to both fall through due to a lack of funding. The opportunity to really kick-start chapter two, broken. Heck, if I just had the financial security I did when I was playing good golf, I could have funded the projects myself.

Professional sport provides levels of motivation and discipline in individuals rarely seen in everyday life. Although the desire and intent is there, I have spent ages 30-34 doing what most aged in their early twenties do, and that's trying to launch a career.

Every single day since I walked away from golf in 2013, I have fought an almighty inner battle to not give in.

It's so easy to see why athletes retire, only to come back to their sport at a later date. Despite the fact they have already passed their expiration date in terms of performance levels, that sense of identity and recognition in the sporting arena can be irreplaceable.

Every single day since I walked away from golf in 2013, I have fought an almighty inner battle to not give in.

I have been extremely fortunate in life to have parents, and a handful of close friends, who have bent over backwards for me and stuck by me through the darkest of days. On occasions, these dark days have been really dark. And, had I remained existing inside the insular bubble of professional sport, I doubt I would have had this clarity.

I have been moved to write this piece and share my thoughts by reading a plethora of stories in recent times surrounding former athletes taking their own lives, going to jail, becoming bankrupt and running afoul of the law.

Quite simply, these stories have to stop. Sporting bodies, unions, and organisations need to do more to establish plans and pathways for athletes to undertake a smoother transition into a post-sporting career.

For me personally, whatever happens in the future, I am forever grateful to the game of golf for providing me a platform in which to launch the next chapter of my career.

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