Duncan McCarthy getting major winners and DP WorldTour golfers mentally tuned in

“I started working with a mental coach, someone called Duncan McCarthy in February, and, if you told me then I would be sitting here, I would never have believed you with the mental state I was in. He's given me the tools to stay in the moment and stay away from the outcome….”

This was the final golfing major of 2022 as Ashleigh Buhai claimed the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield. It was an historic first women’s major to visit this corner of East Lothian as well as the South African’s major breakthrough. But those tools that she spoke of in her winner’s press conference were pieced together by her mental coach, Leeds’ McCarthy.

For three days Buhai was untouchable, building up a five-shot lead, but three of those shots disappeared courtesy of a fairway bunker at the 15th and all that mental preparation would soon be put to the test as four extra holes were needed to edge out Korea’s In Gee Chun.

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“When we started working together Ash was struggling with the Covid situation and not seeing her family for a long time and that then led to frustration of her expectations,” begins McCarthy.

Guidance: Duncan McCarthy, left, chats with his client Marcus Armitage at the recent Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on the DP World Tour. (Picture: Kevin Murray)Guidance: Duncan McCarthy, left, chats with his client Marcus Armitage at the recent Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on the DP World Tour. (Picture: Kevin Murray)
Guidance: Duncan McCarthy, left, chats with his client Marcus Armitage at the recent Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on the DP World Tour. (Picture: Kevin Murray)

"She was a top amateur and that hadn’t turned into the results that she wanted. So our pure focus was on her and the human element.

“Later we shifted to how we become a world-class performer from a mental standpoint. A big part was on the putting green plus the in-between bits. We talked about those walks in between greens and tees and using them as an opportunity to find acceptance and to reset.

"That walk from the 15th green to the 16th tee was one of my highlights of the week as Ash then found the middle of the 16th green. All of that was pulled together from the foundation of Ash being in a better place.”

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Back in 2008 McCarthy’s first public talk was to the members at Skipton Golf Club where a misunderstanding over the lack of a projector screen led to an anxious beginning to his own coaching journey.

Mental coach Duncan McCarthy (Picture: Kevin Murray)Mental coach Duncan McCarthy (Picture: Kevin Murray)
Mental coach Duncan McCarthy (Picture: Kevin Murray)

“I remember thinking I’m here for two hours and have no projector as planned for the talk and if I can get through this then I’ll get through anything,” he recalls.

"The next day I bought a projector with the money that I got paid for that talk.”

The interim has seen him work with gymnasts, swimmers and the early days of Sheffield United’s Oli McBurnie’s career – ‘his Mum used to drop him off in a Polo and the last time that we worked together he turned up in a Range Rover and, although the car had changed, he hadn’t changed at all’ – but it is golf where McCarthy concentrates most of his efforts.

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These days he is often in Florida where he coaches Erik van Rooyen, Buhai and Mel Reid while his longest-serving client, Marcus Armitage, is a lot closer to home in Huddersfield.

Armitage, having bounced around the lower tiers of the game, is now a winner on the main tour. The general perception of the 35-year-old is one of being a bit of a joker but the reality is very different.

“If you ask his caddies they would all say that it’s frightening how much he goes to the end,” says McCarthy.

"If you went to a tournament and wanted to watch somebody regardless of how they were playing, then watch him as you will learn such a lot.

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“We’re brutally honest with one another but it works and I massively respect him, there's a strong bond there. These days he’s different class as a player, he's become one of the best iron players on tour, and he’s applied himself on a daily basis.

"I love the journey that I’ve had with Marcus as we were at rock bottom. I’ve still got videos of us bouncing balls at Moortown on an icy morning and now he goes to Dubai for warm-weather training."

McCarthy’s own life is very different to those early days. He’s now married with two young boys and he's ticked plenty of boxes since that talk at Skipton.

There's the major win, along with victories on all the main tours, and he's now enjoyed golf's iconic drive, down Magnolia Lane at Augusta National.

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"Something on my bucket list was to go to The Masters and work there and not as a spectator. Now I want to do it again.

"Seven years ago I was questioning a lot in terms of will I ever achieve what I want to? Everybody has those doubts now and again and, if they haven’t, then you might question how often they’ve stepped out of their comfort zones?

"It is wonderful but you’ve still got to show up and perform, just because you’re working with these players it can end any time.

"If you look in the mirror and think that you could have done more, then that’s on you.”

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McCarthy is doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge seven times this year to help raise money for the mental health charity Mind

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