Run with the bulls in Pamplona, then fear a walk across a bridge; mental health is a monster

A couple of things that have always defined my life: the need for adrenaline, sometimes bordering on stupidity, and a lack of fear. If you needed a poster boy (minus my face) for “you only live once,” I’m your guy.

I ran with the bulls in Pamplona, drove a car at 165 miles per hour at Texas Motor Speedway and hosted hundreds of events in front of thousands of people. I embraced the challenges and situations. Competition has always lit my fire. When I played golf, the tournament brought out my best.

Therefore I was shocked in 2020, when my wife and I were set to walk the Rickenbacker Causeway in Miami when my legs said no. They began shaking. My chest started pounding. Sure, the bridge climbs high (maybe 50 feet) above the magnificent water of Biscayne Bay, but I’ve traveled this path numerous times — it’s a top-five place I love to go in South Florida.

Eventually, I made it across the bridge, but wondered what had just happened.

A couple of months later, I headed to Baton Rouge to pick up Philip Barbaree for PGA Tour Canada qualifier (his first career Tour qualifying school) in Dothan, Ala. About 2 hours into the trip, I was suddenly stricken with a wild heartbeat and was forced to the shoulder of I-49.

Not even 5 minutes later, the issue intensified. I called my wife in a panic. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere and had no idea if I should call 9-1-1. I’m fairly stubborn and proceeded – making Philip find his way at the last minutes wasn’t an option.

After the first round of the tournament, I couldn’t sleep and had another episode. I hitched an Uber to a Dothan hospital in the middle of the night. With a serious history of heart issues in my family I figured this was the answer.

A couple of hours later, a doctor walked in with some surprising news: “You had a panic attack.”

Say what? Not me. I’m not scared of anything. I’m a freaking man.

Yes, me.

I returned to the hotel at breakfast time and showed Philip my neat hospital band and sheepishly explained what happened. I’m not even sure I was 100-percent honest because I was so embarrassed. I’m not frail and I didn’t want him to get any such idea.

Philip, then 21 and at LSU, couldn’t have been more accommodating. While I caught a nap before our afternoon tee time, he bought a push cart (thankfully we could employ one in that event) at a local store.

We made it through that event, and Philip earned status, but the next few months were sketchy. The country shut down due to Covid that weekend and I had a lot of questions that needed to be answered. I refused daily medication and aimed to curb my issues naturally.

I wanted Philip to succeed so much, I let it get to me months before we even left for the event. Even though I had caddied for him for five prior summers, I drove myself nuts given the importance of this qualifier – the first event that could shape his upcoming professional career. I was paranoid I would get in the way.

I met (virtually of course) with a nutritionist and developed a busy schedule of bike and meditation classes on the Peloton.

The next several events on the bag were challenging to say the least. The anxiety feasted on itself. It didn’t compromise my ability to caddie, but when you feel like you’re going to have a heart attack or pass out when simply walking to the first tee or holding a flag stick, it can mess with your mind and create fear.

As the tournaments went by, not dying on the spot built confidence and helped me believe I could conquer this intangible monster. My improved diet and mind work paid off. It’s amazing how breathing patterns and little mind tricks can calm the brain, the heart and the soul.

By the middle of 2021, the anxiety was curbed, not eliminated (will it ever be?). Now, nervousness is the main emotion, and that’s not a bad thing. If you’re not nervous in big situations, it may not mean enough.

The general perception regarding mental health has changed drastically. Some of the world’s greatest and most successful athletes, Dak Prescott for one, have revealed their struggles within – something unheard of even 10 years ago.

I’m a firm believer people handle anxiety, like any other physical injury, differently. Some can play with a bum ankle, some refuse. I didn’t miss a single shot, and that’s something to behold. I still don’t understand how something so debilitating can happen so suddenly, especially considering my past mind-set, but I know I’m not soft. I’m just human.

And I cannot wait to again attack the Rickenbacker Causeway.

Photo: by CHRISTI LANG

Downtown Miami from the Rickenbacker Causeway


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