The European Tour’s medical team are supporting Andrew “Beef” Johnston after the Englishman withdrew from the British Masters after just nine holes due to fears concerning his mental health.
Johnston, the fan favourite, revealed this time last year that he had struggled so much with the pressures of life on Tour that he had gone back to hotel rooms and cried following competitive rounds.
The 31-year-old was advised by sports psychiatrists to take time away together with fiancee Jodie and baby daughter Harley, and made notable strides on the road to recovery, returning to post two top fives in Rolex Series events in the back half of 2019.
However, Johnston did not feel comfortable in the strictly controlled Covid-19 environment that greeted the pros when the Tour resumed here at Close House following a four-month hiatus and after playing his first nine holes in four-over walked into the clubhouse and withdrew.
“I’ve been on-off about playing for months – I kept changing my mind,” Johnston said. “But actually being here and being confined to the hotel, confined to the course and not being able to bring my family is ultimately not what I want at this moment and not how I want to live my life.
“We like to travel as a family and it’s just been very difficult to get my head around. I’ve learned now to be honest about it, whereas in the past I might have just swallowed it up. I’m not going to do that anymore. If I’m not happy, I’m not going to be here. That’s my golden rule now.”
The Tour would not discuss the Londoner’s case specifically because of patient confidentiality, but it is understood that Dr Andrew Murray, the Tour’s chief medical officer who does a lot of work in the mental health area, has been personally helping Johnston.
Johnston is entered to play in next week’s Hero Open at the Forest of Arden, but like this event, and indeed the six tournaments that form the “UK Swing”, that would also require him to travel without his family and then remain in “the tournament bubble” that essentially requires the pros, caddies, support staff and media either to be at the course or at the designated hotel and nowhere else at any time.
He will have been assured that if he decides to wait until the regulations are eased then his card will not be in jeopardy. A Tour spokesperson said: “We offer all of our players a comprehensive programme to support their mental health. This includes a support hotline which operates 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. We are also aware that everyone has their own unique circumstances at the moment which is why the 2020 season is an optional one”
In his absence, Dale Whitnell, an old friend Johnston’s amateur days, is promising to pen a wonderful feelgood story. Two years ago, the funds ran dry as Whitnell, a Walker Cup team-mate of Tommy Fleetwood, chased his professional dream and the 31-year-old from Essex was forced to take on a job as a courier.
But here he is after a second-round 64 in a tie for second on 10-under alongside South African Justin Harding, just one off the lead set by Italian Renato Parore and with his sights set on the £200,000 first prize.
Another Englishman in Ashley Chesters is in a tie for fourth on nine-under, as are two Scots in David Law and Calum Hill, while Lee Westwood, the tournament host, battled back from an opening double-bogey with a 71 to scrape inside the cut on one-under.