Young Australian professional golfer Zach Murray has revealed the extent of his battles with panic attacks in an amazingly frank interview on Inside The Ropes.
Murray – who holds a European Tour card – played his most recent event at this year’s NSW Open and his experiences at Concord Golf Club prompted him to take a break from golf.
“I think I was maybe a couple of shots off the lead with six or seven holes to go – I’d just had five birdies in a row – and I was panicking to finish,” Murray recalled on this week’s episode.
“When I finished I was just exhausted. The tension in my shoulders was giving me a massive headache and I was just so dizzy. It was a horrible feeling and I broke down to Ames (his partner) when I finished. I was like ‘I’ve got to have a spell here because I’ve got to work this out’.
“It was sad because at that point I didn’t know what was going on and there’s so many questions and doubts that go through your mind.”
It was not the first time Murray had experienced that ‘horrible feeling’ on a golf course.
His mental health issues had come to the fore at the WGC – Mexico Championship in early 2020.
Murray said “life was pretty good” at the time – he kicked off the year with a T21 finish in the European Tour’s Rolex Series event in Abu Dhabi and followed it up with a T15 place at the Vic Open – but things changed quickly.
“When I played the WGC in Mexico – I still remember it like it was yesterday – it was one of the hardest weeks of my life,” Murray said.
“I didn’t know what was going on. We were at altitude. I got food poisoning during the week. There were all these things that were going on. At one stage I was having a panic attack – which I know now – and I thought it was because I was at altitude and for nine holes there I was trying to work out what’s going wrong with me.
“Am I able to breathe properly? Me, as a worrier, I was just in-and-out of trying to play the best golf I can and basically trying to survive in some degree. In my mind that was what I was trying to do. In reality, I was okay. But I was manifesting on all the worries that I was having.”
Soon after the golf world was shut down by COVID-19 and the time off proved to be only temporary relief for Murray.
When the European Tour season re-commenced, his panic attacks did too.
“I think about my health a lot and there were a lot of thoughts that were starting to come into my head. I don’t exactly know the reason why these panic attacks started to happen but they started to happen quite frequently over in Europe last year,” he said.
“At the time, I didn’t know what they were. I just thought that I was really anxious or really nervous for not competing in three or four months and being in different environments, which obviously does have an effect to a certain degree.
“But I really was pushing them aside or fighting them because obviously no one wants to feel that way when they’re trying to compete and do something that I’ve loved doing for so long and still love doing.”
At the end of 2020, Murray returned to his hometown of Wodonga – after a hotel quarantine stint in Sydney – having only made one cut in seven events to finish the year.
Far more pressing than his on course results was the problem that his panic attacks had started to dominate his everyday life.
“I couldn’t even go to the supermarket on my own without fearing a panic attack and they were happening in every part of my life, for the first three months of the year,” he said.
“Your world becomes pretty small. I couldn’t go down to the golf course and practice on my own. Actually, I could but I’d probably most likely have a panic attack. It got to the point where I just had so much of a fear of it that I stopped doing a lot of things that I loved doing.
“For me, that was the thing I was struggling with. My girlfriend’s travelled with me and we’ve been together since high school so the loneliness factor isn’t the case because I wouldn’t play professional golf if I didn’t get to travel with somebody and get to share the experiences. I’m a family person and I love the game but for me to be able to compete at my best to have someone there that I can share the ups and downs with is really key for me.”
Despite his ongoing struggles, Murray managed to keep playing in tournaments back home and recorded some solid results to begin 2021 – T12 at the Victorian PGA Championship and T7 at the Moonah Links PGA Championship.
However, his most impressive results of the year came away from the golf course.
After the NSW Open, Murray began seeing a psychologist in Melbourne and had to confront his issues.
“The first session, I had a panic attack while seeing him because I was so worked up about being there and I just couldn’t control my emotions at the stage. I was fearing everything,” Murray said.
“I’ve only done one in person because Melbourne got locked down but the first three or four sessions were really breaking down what was going on and they were extremely difficult – even in the comfort of my own home over Zoom, it was really hard. I knew it was going to be hard because I was at a point where I was really struggling and needed to do something about it.
“During that period, you have to expose yourself. You have to live the panic attack and sit there and sit through it. If I’m not able to do that, I’ll forever fear that it’s going to hurt me.”
Murray’s work on his mental health is an ongoing process, but the hard work he has put in the past six months has filled him with confidence.
“I’m convinced I’ll get through it. 100%. I have no doubt. It’s more just the timing of it and that’s the only question I have in my mind,” he said.
“I ask myself everyday ‘am I going to be able to get on a plane and go and play at the highest level again?’. Some days I sit here and go ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do that’ and other days I could run through a brick wall, but that’s us as humans. Some days we feel fantastic and some days we don’t.
“The biggest learning is I don’t want to let my emotions dictate what I want to do.”
What Murray wants to do is to get back to professional golf and he is planning to play in Australia this summer and to return to Europe next year.
Now, he is much better equipped to tackle those challenges ahead of him.
“Six months later I obviously know what was going on and things are a lot better. I’m able to say to myself ‘bring it on’ rather than trying to push it away,” he said.
“Sometimes when you’ve got your back against the wall, that’s when you make the biggest progress – with education of course.” – Dane Heverin