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Grayson Murray's death poses golf mental health questions

June 3, 2024

The tragic death by suicide of professional golfer Grayson Murray has started a conversation around the mental health provisions of individual sports like golf.

Grayson Murray with his trophy at the Sony Open in Hawaii
Four months after winning on the PGA Tour, Grayson Murray died by suicideImage: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Network/IMAGO

In January 2024, Grayson Murray won the Sony Open in Hawaii after a birdie on the first playoff hole.

"My life is so good right now," said Murray, who has openly discussed his struggles with depression and alcohol addiction. "I wouldn't trade anything. I have a beautiful fiancee. I have beautiful parents. I have beautiful nephews, siblings. Everyone in my life right now who is close to me who has been through the struggles with me, it's all a team effort."

Four months later, one day after Murray had walked off the green of a PGA event in Texas, Murray died by suicide. He was 30 years old.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan confirmed grief counselors would be available at the upcoming PGA Tour, and Korn Ferry Tour events, but the tragic news has also started a conversation around the mental health provisions of individual sports like golf.

Proactive approach required

Back in 2021, Murray slammed the PGA Tour in a since-deleted tweet that criticized the competition for not giving him the right resources to address his anxiety, depression and trouble with alcohol.

"The PGA Tour didn't force me to drink, but the PGA Tour never gave me help," he posted. Murray added that in his five years on the tour, he had only ever received the following response from the Player Advisory Council: "We will get back to you."

Monahan said he had called Murray right away to try and improve the Tour's mental health services.

The PGA Tour declined to comment on DW's request about what plans it has to update its mental health services to players. In 2021, it provided details of the mental health services offered to its players in Golf Digest, citing the provision of "mental well-being benefits" for players and their families as well as having an assistance program that introduced mental health specialists to those who needed it.

In the context of modern sports, particularly in the US, where both the NFL and the NBA have mandated hours for mental health and well-being for their players and staff, this tragic situation might force sports like golf to take a more proactive step.

Renowned sports psychologist and former professional golfer Dan Abrahams says part of the problem is golf's history with psychology largely connected to performance. Now, as a result of a generational shift, greater access to information and recognition of what other sports are doing, the focus is shifting to mental health and well-being.

"[Golf] tends to be performance psychology," Abrahams tells DW. "And yet the world is now honing in on mental health and well-being. And I think both are very, very relevant, especially in professional sport."

Landscape changing

In individual sports, it's much harder to mandate mental health than in team sports. Sports like golf, which have seemingly lacked psychological help beyond performance for years, now face the challenge of modernizing support for their employees. The landscape is shifting beyond the need to cater just for the body. Abrahams believes the leading figures in high-pressured, solo sports like golf will now be asking whether now is the time to provide provide practitioners at events that enable players to access professional guidance from a well-being and mental health perspective.

"I think these tours have a responsibility to create what we might call a psychologically informed environment where all of the employees, from tournament officers or players themselves, all have the opportunity to seek a counselor who will be onsite. That can make a difference," Abrahams says. "This is the evolution of how we treat sports, how we treat people. This is a more sophisticated approach to human involvement in sports."

Mental health every day

Whether for a week or the entire month, May has long been the time of the year in which awareness around mental health is raised through education, workshops and local events. Abrahams is a big fan of these days and weeks and months because they provide a platform for conversation and intervention, but awareness is just the start. Managing mental health is not a linear process, it's a continuum. It is changing every day and so requires management every day.

"We're human beings, and we are complex creatures living in both complex and complicated worlds. We need to understand every single day, in many respects, requires a degree of mental health and well-being. Every day is a well-being day," Abrahams says.

"We need psychologically informed environments incorporated into cultures, and cultures incorporated into coaching practices. It's an everyday thing and it's not just a day, or week, or a month thing. And that requires a really sophisticated, knowledge-driven form of coaching and it involves everybody."

Grayson Murray was a professional athlete who, as was evident in the statement his parents released and the outpouring in the golf community following his death was loved. He himself said he had turned a corner with his depression and addiction, but that still wasn't enough to save him. His legacy to the sporting world might be that athletes are humans first, but also that every day is a mental health day.

*Editor's note: If you are suffering from serious emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to seek professional help. You can find information on where to find such help, no matter where you live in the world, at this website: https://www.befrienders.org/

Edited by: Matt Pearson