I PLAYED golf firstly because I loved it, then I played more because I was good at it. Later it became a job and I made some really good money from it. Then I forgot about the initial reasons why I got to where I was.
Golf gave me so many opportunities, so many friends and so many quality traits. Golf is all I know, really, and it’s what I learnt the most from. I got to meet some childhood heroes, some very powerful and influential people, but most importantly it taught me how to be honest and true to myself. So when the moment came, I didn’t know how to step away from playing golf professionally. I felt embarrassed by it. I still do. I knew my game wasn’t good enough anymore, but I just didn’t want to give up that dream: the chance to be a champion, the winner, and hold up a trophy just one more time. But in the end I needed to be realistic.
Geoff Ogilvy once said something to me that a lot of golfers would understand: “When you’re playing well, you can’t remember how you could ever shoot a bad score over par. But when you play poorly, you can’t remember how you ever played well and shot the scores you used to.” The second part of that comment is what has haunted me for the past two years.
Life on tour can be tough; playing in Australia isn’t so bad, though. There’s not too much money that we played for here, but there’s always people here you can talk to and hang out with when times are tough. Playing in Asia, or Europe for that matter, I actually found quite difficult, particularly with the language barrier. I had some good weeks, some bad, but overall it was an extremely lonely experience. You’d fly to the tournament by yourself, play a practise round by yourself, eat by yourself and share a hotel room by yourself.
“After a while I got really fed up with myself.
I didn’t enjoy the life I was living.”
Tour life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Don’t get me wrong, when you’re having lunch sitting in a chair directly next to Tiger Woods and you’re playing well, it’s the best job in the world. But when you miss a cut by one shot, and you’re reading a menu for dinner pointing at some random menu items for the waiter, praying that
they don’t serve you up some dog meat or a fried chicken head, believe me there are better places you wish you could be.
It’s very cutthroat out there and extremely competitive at that top level. I’ve seen the best, I’ve played with a lot of the world’s best and they’re so good it’s a joke. But not unachievable. It’s such a fine line between success and failure in golf, the mental strength and killer instinct to get there is most crucial. But once you’re there or you have a taste of success, that desire and drive needs to be at a higher level than it was previously. It’s something I wish I’d learnt a lot earlier.
There’s no doubt winning the Australian PGA Championship changed my life. Initially the winnings paid off my parents’ mortgage and a big investment went towards my father’s health. Now five years have passed, my dad’s health hasn’t really improved but it also hasn’t become worse. I’m working for a company that supported me throughout my golf career (Tempur), I have a steady income and a lot more security in my future. I’m married to the girl of my dreams, Holly, and we live in a little apartment in Melbourne – the best city in the world.
I’m really happy for what I achieved in golf, but what I’m most grateful for is what I’ve received outside the game.
• Daniel Popovic won the 2012 Australian PGA Championship