The COVID-19 pandemic has been indiscriminate. It’s taken a heavy toll on men and women from all walks of life. Golf professionals have not been exempt.
On the surface, Jazz Janewattananond would appear to have been among the more fortunate. Since early 2020, the former Asian Tour Order of Merit champion acknowledges he’s been lucky to have been able to continue plying his trade.
But living out of a suitcase and unable to return to home and spend time with loved ones has proved an immense – and often unpleasant – mental challenge.
Even for an even-keeled, feet-on-the-ground individual like the 26-year-old Thai, the effects have severely disturbed his equilibrium, resulting in prolonged periods of mental stress and depression that reduced him to the depths of despair.
Inevitably, his golf game has suffered.
Following top-four finishes in the Hong Kong Open and SMBC Singapore Open at the beginning of 2020, Jazz rose to a career-best 38th in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR).
Then Covid-19 struck. It’s no coincidence that his form has dipped alarmingly. Of the 46 events in which he’s participated over the past 24 months, he’s had just six top-10s and missed 19 cuts.
Ahead of the inaugural International Series Thailand at Black Mountain Golf Club, his home club, Jazz has, for the first time, talked publicly about the mental health issues that have afflicted him – and led to the downturn in his playing fortunes.
“For me, I need to be happy to play good golf. I’m working on that now. I need to be happy with myself and happy with who I am,” said Jazz, following a closing 65 at the Royal’s Cup on Sunday that lifted him into a share of sixth place, indicating an improvement in his psychological state as much as his game.
By his own admission, there has not been a great deal of happiness or joy in his life these past two years.
“I haven’t been suicidal or anything like that. But you just wake up some days and don’t feel like doing anything – and that’s not like me. I’m usually the hyper type and optimistic. But the last two years when I’ve woken up, I’ve just wanted to lay in bed all day.
“A lot of people have lost their jobs, their loved ones, their life savings. I can’t compare myself to those people but, for sure, I’ve been badly affected.
“Some rounds in the last two years, I just felt that I didn’t want to be there. Because I’ve been travelling, I haven’t felt like I belonged. Living out of a suitcase, you don’t have a home to go to. That’s been the biggest threat to my mental health.
“I’ve been very lucky to be able to play golf these past two years and am grateful for that. But you go through depression because you can’t get home. And if you’re not happy with your life, then you can’t be happy with your golf.”
Thanks to the easing in travel and quarantine restrictions, Jazz was able to return to Thailand in late 2021 and reacquaint himself with family, friends and his dog.
“At the end of last year, I felt like my physical ability was not that tired, but mentally I was gone. I couldn’t think. I was on the road for a year and a half, with no news of Thailand opening up. Once they said Thailand was going to do the Test and Go scheme, it clicked that I wanted to go home and I was feeling homesick. So once I arrived in Thailand, my mind wasn’t on golf. It was good to kind of get away from it.
“I’m still in the process of getting back to normal – but I’m not there yet. In the last three months I’ve been home twice. But my mind won’t rest easy because I still have a lot of tournaments to play in Europe and overseas,” said Jazz, who is due to head to South Africa next week for back-to-back tournaments followed by the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
For now, though, Jazz is simply savouring being back on home soil and hopeful of thrilling his Thai fans on his home course in Hua Hin this week.
“Parts of my game are coming together. I just need to put it all together. I’m going to try and win because Black Mountain is my home club,” he said. If Jazz is simply able to get through the week free of mental stress, then that in itself will be a notable victory worth celebrating.