Sport

Nick O'Hern is a picture of calm as he considers stepping back from the greens. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: PGA OF AUSTRALIA

On the back nine: Nick O’Hern, 43, golfer

Nick O’Hern has been a professional golfer for 20 years. In that time he has won two PGA Tour of Australasia events, and represented Australia in the World Cup. Last season, surgery cost him his place on the US PGA Tour.

Richard Cooke Last year was a little frustrating.

Nick O’Hern Yeah, I’ve struggled with my game the past couple of years really. I’m winding down in my career in the US – I’m not going to be playing much over there anymore. I’m kind of taking a year off and pursuing other interests at the moment. It’s a bit strange because golf is all I’ve ever done for the past 20 years.

RC What made you decide it was time?

NO The kids are getting to an age now where I want to be home more and see them grow up. And my wife wants me home more, which is always a nice feeling. And I really haven’t enjoyed the golf much in the past couple of years. My knees are still giving me some issues, and my game wasn’t what it used to be. I guess more so the motivation needed to really put the time and effort in is waning, so I’m quite happy to step back a bit and do other things.

RC Golf is a game that seems to require a lot of patience, and building up that patience over time. Is it a strange feeling when it starts to wear thin?

NO That’s the key. If you aren’t patient, then you aren’t going to do well in this game, it’s plain and simple. I was trying to be patient, but I wasn’t getting any results and felt, “Why just keep banging my head up against a brick wall?” There’s something else to do. I’ve had a pretty decent career so I’m pretty happy to be just stepping back.

RC Do you think that the tour has changed as well?

NO Yeah. I mean guys are getting younger, fitter, stronger. Golf courses have changed, certainly in the US, where you’ve got to smash the ball out there a bit more.

RC What will you miss about playing golf?

NO Just the competition. There is no feeling like coming down the last nine holes and you are in contention and the blood’s pumping and you’ve got to try to execute your shots. Because that’s why you play the game.
I certainly won’t be missing the practice and the hours on the range or anything like that.

RC Why is golf so hard?

NO You are never really on the same playing field, that’s a big thing. Golf courses vary, the weather conditions vary, it’s the luck of the bounce. There are so many little factors that go into it and you just can’t control it. Whereas a tennis court or a footy field or something, everything seems to be the same every time you step out there. When golf changes so much, it’s such a mental game. You hit a shot, and then you have to wait a couple of minutes until you get your next one, and you’re probably saying some pretty awful things to yourself every now and then. You’ve just got to really keep it under control.

RC You must have developed a kind of mantra and tricks over the years to be keeping those thoughts at bay.

NO I’ve really only stuck with one or two over the years. For me it was always “stay in the moment”, be very present, focused, and then just commit to the process.

RC That’s why a lot of golfers get interested in meditation?

NO I’ve done that over the years as well myself. It’s always been a very handy tool to have because it’s more about breathing and keeping your emotions under control on the golf course, especially towards the end of tournaments. That’s life in general, I think. We are always thinking, “What about next week or next year?”, or something like that, and in golf that relates to the next hole and the next day. So I think that’s the biggest lesson, just live in the moment.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 29, 2014 as "On the back nine". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.