Liam Johnston: I wanted to jack it in when I felt numb and couldn't have cared less

Liam Johnston became a third-time winner on the Challenge Tour after almost “jacking it in” as a professional golfer when he should have been hurting about a wretched run of form yet found himself feeling “numb and could not have cared less”.

The 29-year-old, who currently lives in Edinburgh but is heading home to Dumfries & Galloway later this year, put a spring back in his step as he landed the Emporda Challenge in Girona on Sunday.

Coming on the back of six consecutive missed cuts on the second-tier circuit, the success was out of the blue, with Johnston admitting it was an opportunity that might not have been on offer to him as he contemplated his future as recently as a couple of weeks ago.

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“It was in a complete rut I was in and it was difficult to get out of it,” he told The Scotsman. “I’ve had several conversations with my fiance, Danni, and my long-time friend and mentor, James Erskine, and there were times when I was thinking, ‘I just want to jack it in’.”

Liam Johnston acknowledges the crowd after winning the Emporda Challenge at Emporda Golf Club in Girona. Picture: Alex Caparros/Getty Images.

Hearing that will come as a shock to anyone who either knows him or has followed his career. After all, Johnston’s whole life has revolved around competitive golf and his CV is impressive.

He won both the African Amateur and Scottish Open Stroke Play Championships in 2017 then hit the ground running in the pro ranks with Challenge Tour triumphs in the Andalucia Costa del Sol Match Play 9 and Kazakhstan Open the following year.

On the back of that brace, he graduated to the DP World Tour along with Grant Forrest, Bob MacIntyre and David Law, but, as they all went on to become winners on the main circuit, Johnston’s career went into reverse after losing his seat at the top table after just one season.

“Being brutally honest, when I came off the course recently at Newmachar (where he missed the cut in the Farmfoods Scottish Challenge), I felt numb - I couldn’t have cared less where the ball went or what I shot,” he added.

Liam Johnston enjoyed getting a trophy back in his hands after coming out on top on Spanish soil for a second time on the Challenge Tour. Picture: Alex Caparros/Getty Images.

“That was a big eye-opener for me when I got the train back from Aberdeen. I thought to myself, ‘what’s going on here?’ as I love the game. I knew then I needed a reset, so I spoke to a psychologist.

“That helped me get to the bottom of it and has allowed me to get back to doing what I love within the game and what makes me love it. I had to start enjoying it again after finding myself so deep in a rut that I couldn’t see the way out of it.”

All of a sudden, though, the future is looking bright again. He’s jumped nearly 100 spots to tenth in the Road to Mallorca Rankings, with the top 20 after the Grand Final in November securing DP World Tour cards. While keeping his feet on the ground, Johnston could be back flying the Saltire along with MacIntyre & Co on the main tour when he ties the knot with Danni next June.

“She’s a bit of a rock for me, which is nice,” he said. “I was kind of getting emotional on the last green on Sunday as it feels like a big win for me, even though it’s the Challenge Tour is the developmental tour.

“But, from where I’ve been the last couple of years, even the last couple of months, it was quite big. And, when I was on the phone to her on Sunday I could tell how much joy it brought to her as well as she’s been there with me through the tough times. That was a good facetime call.”

As was the one with Erskine, the Dumfries & County Golf Club professional, due to Sunday turning into a double celebration for him. “His wife gave birth to their second child as I was winning and he said that it had coincided with the rebirth of his son,” said Johnston, chuckling.

“I’ve moved on coach-wise, but he’s always been a sounding board for me. He’s a good person to talk to. He’s a solid guy who has always been there for me. It was a good day all round for him on Sunday.”

Instead of heading home for a celebration, Johnston, who is managed by Paul Lawrie, has gone in the other direction to try and build on his latest victory.

"Winning again is a massive confidence booster for me as it’s a step in the right direction,” he said after arriving in Brno, venue for this week’s Kaskada Challenge, in the Czech Republic.

“The goal now is to secure a place in the top 20 and then finish as high as I can. That’s why I’ve decided to not take this week off. It’s straight back to business this week and try and have another good event.

“It’s about trying to keep building my confidence and get as many tournament rounds under my belt as I can. The more you compete, the more you learn about yourself and even the odd Euro can mean so much come the end of the season.”

Having played with PING equipment for most of his life, Johnston now has Titleist clubs in his bag, admitting that switch had provided a boost at a time when he was desperately looking for a kick-start.

“I made the equipment change towards the end of last year,” he said. “I went down to the Titleist fitting facility at Woburn. I know Liam McDougall, the Titleist tour rep who is from just outside Dumfries, quite well and the whole way they went about it was amazing.

“It was such an easy move to put everything in the bag - all 14 clubs are now Titleist - and that type of support when you are not doing so well means a lot. It shows that people still believe in you.”

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