Commentary

Steven Bowditch ready to start anew

Originally Published: January 11, 2011
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

Steven Bowditch doesn't want to talk about the past.

[+] EnlargeSteven Bowditch
Stan Badz/PGA TourSteven Bowditch reached the PGA Tour in 2011 after finishing 17th on the 2010 Nationwide Tour money list.

Doesn't want to talk about his first tour of duty on the PGA Tour five years ago, a rookie season marred by a hideous amalgamation of missed cuts, withdrawals and disqualifications.

Doesn't want to talk about the crippling bout with depression he was undergoing at the time, an illness that led to pre-tournament binge drinking and a failed suicide attempt when he tried to drown himself at the bottom of his own pool.

Doesn't want to talk about the myriad steps involved to not only function on a daily basis once again, but return to playing golf at such a proficient level that he is back for a return engagement on the game's most elite level this season.

No, he doesn't want to talk about any of it.

"It's all in the past," Bowditch says. "I really want to leave it all behind me, to be honest with you."

Even those who weren't aware of his personal struggles in 2006 could have seen the signs. A can't-miss kid from his days as an Australian phenom, he was the type of player who reaches the PGA Tour and never leaves, the type who piles up paychecks on the way to a very lucrative career.

Instead, his symptoms led to one of the most erratic seasons in recent memory. In 22 starts as a 22-year-old, he made the cut just twice, never finishing better than 76th place. More troubling were the three withdrawals and four disqualifications.

"I played so badly out there," he said looking back. "I don't remember too much, really. I kind of have selective memory."

And yet, those results don't even begin to tell the story of how he was affected by his affliction.

In a 2009 profile for Golf World magazine, Jim Moriarty wrote that the player's mind would wander in tournament rounds, rarely focusing on the task at hand. Bowditch was even more eccentric off the course. He once drove three-and-a-half hours in no particular direction and for no particular reason. Friends and relatives would call; he wouldn't call back. He began drinking heavily. And often.

"Desperate to switch his mind off, he chugged an entire bottle of Scotch and slept for two days," Moriarty wrote. "When he woke up, he says, he put on all his heavy clothes to serve as a woolen anchor weighing down his muscular body, walked to the pool of his Dallas condominium and tried to drown himself. Discovered floating in the water by his then-girlfriend, he had very nearly succeeded. She resuscitated him, and he was transported to a hospital. When he got out, he flew home for help."

Frightening stuff. It would be enough for most professionals to give up the mental pursuit of golf altogether. Bowditch found the help and medication he needed, though, and slowly started working his way back to the big leagues. In 2007, he made the cut in nine of 23 starts on the Nationwide Tour; in 2008, he went 2-for-16; and in 2009, he was 7-for-20.

His breakthrough finally came last season, when he won the developmental circuit's Soboba Classic and finished 17th on the final money list, earning his PGA Tour playing privileges once again.

"Obviously, you learn from experience, and I'm definitely getting older and more experienced," says Bowditch, now 27. "My game is getting better. I think that's going to be a big advantage from what I had in '06. We'll see if we can get a little better from last time."

Whether he succeeds or fails, rises or falls, Bowditch's tale will hold plenty of intrigue this season. He still doesn't want to talk about the past, but press him and he'll allow a little glimpse into what he was going through a half-decade ago.

"I was 22 years old. I was doing what 22-year-olds do, you know?" he explained. "I was just young, man. Young and loved to have a good time and didn't realize what I had when I had it. It came to me pretty easily the first time. But it's something I'll really cherish this time and understand how much work it actually takes to get there and stay there and make a career out of it."

Therein lies the Catch-22 for Steven Bowditch.

The better he plays, the more he'll be asked about his illness. Depression can be treated, but never cured. And so he will take to the PGA Tour once again, armed with the knowledge that there are certain pitfalls he must avoid.

"It's like anything. You've just got to work at it," Bowditch maintained. "Practice hard and practice the right things and build confidence in the stuff you're working on. It's work, but if you truly believe in it, it's really not that hard at all. You've just got to be patient and confident."

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.