Behind Closed Doors

Continued (page 2 of 4)

Australian Steven Bowditch

Lonely Road: While Bowditch played some of his best golf in 2005, including a playoff loss at the New Zealand PGA Championship, psychotherapy and medication were slow to control his depression, which worsened in 2006. Photo: Dean Treml/Getty Images

Almost inexplicably, by his own reckoning, Bowditch began to play well. He started making money. He qualified for the Queensland Open and won it by five. That got him back in the Australian Open, where he finished T-3. That got him into the Jacob's Creek Open, co-sponsored by the Nationwide Tour, which he won. He was 21 at the time, the second-youngest player to win a Nationwide event. The following week he lost to Peter O'Malley in a playoff in the ING New Zealand PGA Championship, also a Nationwide event.

Just that fast, Bowditch was off to America knowing that, if he played decently for the rest of the '05 season, he was assured of having a PGA Tour card in 2006.

What should have been a hopeful beginning turned out, very nearly, to be a sorrowful end.

The symptoms had been coming with increasing frequency for two to three years. It started with debilitating headaches once a month, then once a week, then every day. He would get sudden, inexplicable nosebleeds, sometimes so severe blood would soak the front of his shirt. There were nights he couldn't sleep and days he couldn't focus on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. On the practice range the Wednesday before he won Jacob's Creek, Bowditch got such an acute headache he sought medical attention. The fear was a brain tumor and an MRI was performed. He was almost relieved when a diagnosis of clinical depression came back instead. But diagnosis was light years removed from release of the vice grips clamped around his mind.

Others have dealt publicly with depression. Bert Yancey, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour, experienced the sleepless nights and obsessive compulsions. Baseball's Jimmy Piersall woke up every day with a headache from the time he was 15. Piersall and Yancey would likely be described as bipolar today while Bowditch suffers from major depression.

Depressive states, however, share many symptoms. There is some evidence that depression runs in families. Piersall's mother suffered from it, as did Bowditch's grandfather, Reginald Bowditch, whose condition may have stemmed from spending four years in forced labor on the Burma Railway as a prisoner of war during World War II, subsisting on a bowl of rice and half a glass of water a day. Dick Cavett discusses his illness openly, once explaining the condition this way on "Larry King Live:" "When you're downed by this affliction, if there were a curative magic wand on the table eight feet way, it would be too much trouble to go over and pick it up."

Following his diagnosis, Bowditch was treated with monthly psychotherapy sessions. "They didn't want to put me on any medication, because they didn't think I was bad enough to do [that]," he says. "It was hard for them because everything in my life was so good." But the better things were on the golf course, the worse he was off it.

"To be honest, it was normal for me on the Nationwide Tour to be so embarrassed of my thoughts, I would sit in the locker room 'til two minutes before my tee time and run out and play," he says. "If everyone was hitting balls on the left side of the range, I'd go all the way to the end just because I didn't want to be around anyone. I didn't want to talk to anyone. When people would talk to me, I didn't even know they were talking. I couldn't work out why."

His mind would wander off on what he calls his tangents. "I'd be walking down the fairway and looking over at people having a barbecue, having a good time. I would think, 'How good would a steak be right now?' I'd then walk over there and ask them for a steak. It was just weird. It wouldn't matter how I was playing golf, if I felt like watching TV nine holes through a golf tournament, that's what I'd do. I wasn't angry. I wasn't mad. I wasn't disappointed. I'd just go do something else. It's like I was a different person." Once, he got in his car and drove 3 hours, in no particular direction for no particular reason. When he realized what he'd done, he called his caddie to check him out of the hotel and retrieve his clothes.

Psychotherapy left his symptoms unabated. "I wouldn't sleep or eat from Monday to Wednesday and then I'd eat all day Thursday as much as I could," he says. "I had it in my mind this was my routine." Bowditch describes himself as a binge drinker, if an infrequent one, in his schoolboy days. During the '05 season he began self-medicating with alcohol. "I would finish the pro-am at midday. I would start drinking at 1 o'clock in the afternoon and go all the way until 5 o'clock in the morning and tee it up in the tournament at 7 o'clock on the first tee. Go home, have an afternoon sleep and do it again. And that went on for six weeks," he says. "I realized in June or July that I was doing it every day. That was my only escape from the person that I was." He finished the year fourth on the Nationwide money list.

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