In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car Sweden’s Rikard Karlberg gives a revealing insight into a difficult 18 months away from the game where he battled a serious infection and depression before a remarkable return to form last month.
It started at the Irish Open in 2017. For three or four months after that event I just kept having the flu that I couldn’t shake off, and I couldn’t find the core issue. Some people say it started from Lyme’s Disease – some say it was an infection that I never rested from – but the core issue was that I had a build-up of mental and physical stress from an infection. I never rested and I kept playing and in the end my body just said ‘no.’
After that I was in bed for almost six months. I would get up and see the kids before school but after that I would just lie there. I wasn’t there taking care of them and it was a big load on my wife and the rest of my family. I had a lot of different issues – which I think came from being isolated from the world. I didn’t like to be around too many people, too much light gave me a headache, and it took me a lot longer to recover than I thought. I was trying to get better through different kinds of therapies – both medical and natural – but in the end the doctor told me ‘the reason I think you’re not getting better is because you have depression.’
In January this year I started to feel better, felt like I could practice again. I started to feel physically well and was able to start working out again, and I started off practising an hour here and an hour there, and gradually I built up my training and after a few months I felt ‘let’s give this a go.’ I had my ‘comeback’ at the British Masters as I felt that even though I was having one or two setbacks golf is ultimately like a bicycle, and you just have to start riding again. But when you start playing tournament golf you realise how much mental pressure there is – even if your golf is really good in practice, you’re missing that mental edge when you’re competing. My energy levels weren’t quite there to get around 18 holes, and I found it hard to re-energise if I had a tough stretch during the round. After that I really aimed to build myself up physically and commit to playing again.
My wife asked me if I wanted to go and watch last year’s tournament in Sweden – but I couldn’t at first as it was too sad. I was really looking forward to playing there, and when I couldn’t play, I just felt really bad. I did spend some time there over the weekend, but to be honest I found the whole experience overwhelming after lots of people were coming up to me and asking me how I was. We went home early in the end, and although it was meant to give me some inspiration to get better, I found the day very tough. That’s why now I am so happy that the event is back in Gothenburg and at the Hills again this year. I can play in front of my family and friends – the golf course is 20 minutes from my home, it’s where I practice – and I love it there. I have thought about it a lot, and I am going to try and enjoy the week and just enjoy spending some time at my home club. I will go out, smile, and try to savour every moment.
My real comeback started on the Challenge Tour in Austria last month and I didn’t expect to feel so good on the golf course again so quickly. I finished in the top ten in Austria, then the next week in Finland I led going into the final round and I felt so relaxed throughout that week. The big win for me was just seeing that I could have energy for 72 holes and be up near the top of the leaderboard – even more so in Prague last week, where I came tied fifth. I am really enjoying playing golf again and loving life at the moment. I’m not feeling any pressure when it comes to results. When you come through the issues I’ve come through, you learn a lot about what’s really important. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself, and although I still do, it’s not something that I let drag me down – I just try to enjoy the moment.
I really value the small things in golf now. I love how a really good shot feels in your hands, or when you hole a really good putt – finding all of that fun again. In Austria I was holing putts from everywhere and I was just laughing to my friend who was caddying for me. All I was thinking about was how good it felt to make that contact with the ball, and I am trying to focus on having that sense of enjoyment each time I play – right now it is just fun playing golf.
To be where I am now in golf is just a bonus. When I was at my lowest points, I didn’t think of getting better for golf – I wanted to get better for my family: my wife and my twin girls. I just wanted to enjoy life with them. That was more important than playing again, I just wanted to be in a position where I could look after them again. My whole life I had been playing golf and doing everything for that, but you’re nothing without your health and you realise that you would throw golf away to be healthy for your family. Now I am focusing on being as relaxed as I can on the golf course, and if I can achieve that when the pressure is on then hopefully, I can compete at the highest level in the future.