WEST CALDWELL, NEW JERSEY | “It’s very difficult to be happy when you don’t play well.” These words, uttered by the German LPGA Tour winner Caroline Masson at the beginning of the Cognizant Founders Cup at the Mountain Ridge Country Club, struck a nerve with every golfer, man or woman, professional or amateur. Nothing burdens the rest of the day like a lousy round of golf. The food doesn’t taste that good; Your interactions with others don’t seem so optimistic; even your dog will avoid you. And those are the feelings of a person it hits on a Saturday morning at their home club. Imagine making a living at 10 feet with your paycheck depending on the small numbers on a hot dog wrapper scorecard every week.
Masson hasn’t had the best year on the ropes. Before teeing off at Mountain Ridge, where she broke through with a second place against Jin Young Ko, the 32-year-old missed six cuts and retired from another event after the first round. She had only had two top 10 finishes before this tournament. Her best week of the year before the founders was at the Marathon Classic, where she finished fifth with equal points. After that, she drove to the airport for a hurricane. By October, her mind and body were as torn as her passport.
“I think we all invest so much in golf at a young age that it’s very hard to say it doesn’t really matter,” said Masson. “It’s what we do most of the time and it’s super important to us. But as I get older I have a really good balance in my life which really helps. I mean, Jason (McDede, her fiancé, the one for Nelly Korda Caddies) and we will hopefully get married soon. We should have been married for about a year. “
COVID-19 put an end to that. The couple live in Florida and Caroline’s family is in Germany. In November they can travel for the first time to see their daughter.
“Having a good personal life definitely helps me keep my balance,” said Masson. “I have to keep reminding myself that a bad round of golf doesn’t define me.”
Easier said than done. Golf requires such mental discipline that when things go sideways it is easy to chase bad laps down a rabbit hole instead of remembering that you are a good friend, fiance, daughter, and wonderful player .
Hopefully this week has put some of Masson’s demons to rest. She completed four rounds in the sixties on one of the most demanding courses of the year, a caliber test for the major championship, which thrilled the entire field. Her seven birdie, no-bogey 64 on Sunday was the round of the day in the worst conditions of the week. It rained on Mountain Ridge all day, and temperatures peaked in the low 60s.
“You’d think I feel at home in Germany,” she says with a smile. “We have a lot of this (weather) at home. But I just had a really good mental approach today. Okay, we know it’s going to be tough; it will rain. Take it shot by shot. I was really very calm out there and didn’t overtake myself. I think that was really the greatest. It doesn’t matter so much how you hit it, it’s more about accepting the situation. “
Then she got serious. Her face twisted from memories of the battles she’d been through earlier in the year, particularly at the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open, after the Olympics, before the Solheim Cup, and between the Amundi Evian Championship and the AIG Women’s Open. That week she retired to Scotland to focus on her mental health. Then she did a few lousy laps in Carnoustie and flew home for a month to rest and mentally restart.
“I had a really tough week at the Scottish Open, just not in a good position mentally,” she said. “I think (when that happens) you have two options: either you can’t say anything and just crawl into your little hole, or you can actually be open. Got a great response from (share my story). A lot of players, people in general, came up and said, ‘It was really cool that you did that and I’m proud of you.’ We have all been there before or are perhaps there now. I think the more we can talk about it, the more it will help.
“It’s just about accepting that (mental stress) is a real thing and can affect anyone. As psychologically tough as we are all out here, it can still hit you. ”
The problems she describes cannot be solved with cold, merciless numbers on a scorecard. They require something deeper and deeper, something that Masson is getting closer and closer to.
“I can’t tell you how big this is,” she said of her runner-up in the Founders. “This summer was a little tough. To be honest, mentally it was a really, really tough track, probably the toughest of my career. So, to come back and have a good week last week and feel like I’m really close – I know I’m pretty far from scoring points this week, but (the game) was pretty nah – it’s pretty great. I just have to thank everyone on my team for being there for me. ”