Olivia Mahaffy knew something had to change. It wasn’t right to say that she couldn’t go on like this. If anything, that was part of the problem. Carrying on like this has been what she’s been doing for most of the year. It was all you knew how to do.
Her father, Phillip, passed away in December 2021 after suffering from cancer for a long time. I started 2022 by playing it for eight straight weeks, all over the planet. Arizona in March, then back-to-back weeks in South Africa, followed by back-to-back weeks in Thailand, then two weeks of tournaments in Australia. She capped it off with the Madrid Open on her way home to the small village of Scarfa on the Armagh/Down border.
Eight consecutive weeks. Who does that? Someone who doesn’t want to go home, basically. Mahaffy was devastated by the loss of her father but she couldn’t bring herself to admit her size to anyone, least of all herself. She was miserable and a loser and didn’t want to be anywhere near a golfer.
Grief is the strangest thing I have ever experienced. I think this is one of the reasons people don’t talk about it as much. Because it’s hard to explain. You never know when it will come.
– Olivia Mahaffy
By the time she reached August, she had played 17 tournaments, missed 9 cuts and withdrew from the Skafto Open in Sweden after one round. That night, after dropping out of the tournament, I sat in the house I rented with some friends and cried for hours. She was, as she put it, having a breakdown. Grief was in a vice and the pressure was brutal.
“I am in a better place now,” she says. “And only by being in a better place can I realize how bad of a place I was in. I honestly don’t know how I kept playing during the weeks when I was struggling so bad.
“So I guess I’ll really take the time to get help, I feel almost fresh this season. When you start to hate your job and get miserable and the thing you loved so much just isn’t fun anymore, it’s a really bad place to be in.”
After withdrawing from the tournament in Sweden, Mahaffy decided to take a hiatus. to stop golf. to stop going. To basically stop everything. She needed time and space to regroup, to find some kind of compromise with her grief. To try to understand what he wants from her.
“Grief is the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced,” she says. “I think that’s one of the reasons people don’t talk much about it. Because it’s hard to explain. You never know when it’s coming.”
“I’ve had times when I felt totally fine and then all it took was one thought to trigger it and I’m a mess. And in life, we basically knew that everything can be answered. But everyone’s experience is very different, it’s about different people. In different ways and at different times. That’s what makes it difficult for people to understand.”
So I stopped. so what?
“It was an identity crisis at first. I remember the first three or four days not wanting to leave the house. I really didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t want to touch a golf club. I didn’t want to go to the gym. I didn’t want to do anything.” And I’m really not a person who likes to lie and do nothing.
“So I was thinking to myself, ‘Should I go and get a job here?'” Should I work as a waitress for a bit or something for a bit? Just to be a normal person while I work things out myself. I was playing around with these things in my head and what I came back to was asking myself what I was really excited about.”
In the meantime, she had to go to the States for a bit and return to her old apartment in Phoenix to move some things. Mahaffy was a star college golfer at Arizona State between 2016-2021 and still has plenty of connections there, including one of her sponsors, The Carlyle Company. She made the trip with her mother and cousin and indulged in meeting Carlisle along the way.
Truth be told, I entered with some trepidation. They were patronizing her to play golf and whatever she was doing now, that wasn’t the case. But not only did they understand where she was in her head, they encouraged her to really lean on it.
“They asked me what I wanted to do on my vacation and I said I might think of a podcast or a blog or something. I really didn’t know, but I was kind of thinking that if I shared a little bit about the grief I was going through, it might help.” That someone. And they were right there going, “You gotta do this.”
“They were talking to me about exactly how many people have this problem and how athletes have a voice but they don’t talk enough. I couldn’t speak highly enough about them. My job is to compete in professional golf and I was dreading that conversation, basically telling them I wasn’t going to do it for a while of time. But they were so supportive. They gave me the nudge I needed to start the blog.”
She posted her first post on her website at the beginning of November. She had always been in magazines but this was different. He would sit and open all its doors to anyone who felt like intruding around him. She was picking her own story and never sparing herself.
The blog is updated once a week and it goes in depth on places. She details her thoughts and fears, some completely rational, some less so. All the way through, her sincerity hits you right between the eyes.
Read Olivia Mahaffey’s blog here
“Once I got going, it was easier than I thought,” she says. “The hard thing is bringing yourself back to the worst moments. What I had in mind was writing it down as a timeline of everything that happened. As I went along, reliving part of it was the hardest part. But it really helped me. I didn’t see it as therapy when I was doing it but in a way what.
“I think the best thing for me is that it’s liberating. When those words were coming out of you as you were writing them, it was like a therapy session. The free flow just came across so I think it’s because I’ve bottled things up for so long. I’ve never fully spoken to people.” About how much I was going through and how I was feeling. And in a way, it was like I wanted to get it all out.”
Little by little, week after week, she walked herself back up the breadcrumb path. She did the work, mind, body and soul. She returned to golf when she couldn’t stay away and began to resume her career. The Ladies European Tour 2023 starts in two weeks in Kenya. She twirled the date in the calendar and orientated herself to it. No guarantees or illusions.
“If you’re not where you’re supposed to be mentally in any sport, it’s going to be hard. But especially in golf. I remember walking down the lane at Galgorm Castle and I had a very close friend of Davy Jones. We were walking on the 15th and he was just asking me Questions about life.Just really spending time.
“I was missing the miles and by that point, just getting through 36 holes was quite an accomplishment. And I just found myself walking down that fairway with tears in my eyes. I was just in a place where I was getting so distracted and my head was so cloudy, I couldn’t function. I was on the golf course.” And I was making senseless decisions. Even just running a basic course became impossible. I was there but I wasn’t there.”
And so I went again. It’s better than it used to be. Don’t turn away and go, don’t be carefree, nothing like that. But she is able to get up and move on without her grief swaying her at every turn. If and when you come back to visit, we hope you’ll see it in drive now.
Coming back on the Tour will be about the small wins, first and foremost. Play freely. Pars grinding. making cuts. go from there. She doesn’t know yet what it will be like, but she’s excited to find out.
“I’ve put so much work into it that I feel like I’ve got the tools now. I’m ready to deal with it. I know it’s going to happen at some point. It’s not like you’re snapping your fingers and everything gets better overnight. I’ve been through it. I know not to let it go.” You reach so far.I was in such a shaky place the last time I was involved but it’s different now.
“I was talking to my coach a few days ago about how I felt coming back. And he said to me, ‘Looks like you can take a punch now.’ And I said, ‘That’s just right.’ I feel a little bit like that.”