Stresses of Covid bub­ble force early exit for John­ston

Fans’ favourite bows out af­ter nine holes at Bri­tish Mas­ters Hall ends run of run­ners-up places to win Rose Ladies event

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By James Cor­ri­gan GOLF COR­RE­SPON­DENT in New­cas­tle

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, a fans’ 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 and, to­gether with fi­ancee Jodie and baby daugh­ter Har­ley, made notable strides to­ward 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. Af­ter play­ing his first nine holes in four over, he 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 learnt 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 men­tal health, has been help­ing

John­ston. The golfer 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 need him to travel with­out his fam­ily and then re­main in “the tour­na­ment bub­ble” that essen­tially re­quires the pros, cad­dies, sup­port staff and me­dia to be con­fined to the course or the des­ig­nated ho­tel at all times.

John­ston will have been as­sured that if he de­cides to wait un­til the reg­u­la­tions are eased then his card will not be in jeop­ardy.

In his ab­sence, Dale Whitnell, an old friend from John­ston’s am­a­teur days, is promis­ing a 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-yearold from Es­sex was forced to take a job as a courier.

Here, af­ter a sec­ond-round 64, he is 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.

Mean­while, Ge­or­gia Hall fi­nally tasted vic­tory in the Rose Ladies Se­ries at Bear­wood Lakes af­ter three sec­ond plac­ings in as many starts.

The 24-year-old for­mer Women’s Open cham­pion said: “I have to be hon­est, it was frus­trat­ing fin­ish­ing run­ner-up each time, be­cause I’d re­ally played well.”

With two events left in the se­ries, Charley Hull – the world No25 who fin­ished in a tie for 15th yes­ter­day – leads the stand­ings with Hall in sec­ond spot.

Time out: An­drew ‘Beef’ John­ston with­drew be­fore ad­mit­ting he was miss­ing his fam­ily

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