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Lessons from the green: How sports psychology helped a top golf pro cope with cancer

Michaela Robinson-Tate
by Michaela Robinson-Tate | Personal stories

16 March 2023

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Lysa Jones swinging a golf club

As a golf coach and pro, Lysa Jones is used to competing at the highest level and drawing on the mental resilience that she’s gained through years of rigorous sports training.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, Lysa, 51, found that she could deploy the same resilience to help her cope with the illness and her treatment.

Being able to focus on the here and now was key and it’s a skill that Lysa aims to pass on to her clients.

She is part of Graham Walker’s Golf Academy Professional team at The Oaks Golf Club and Spa at Aughton, near York and her elite work includes coaching England under 18 boys and Yorkshire Ladies.

At first, Lysa said the diagnosis knocked her sideways: “When you receive the news that you have cancer it’s human nature to fear the worst. You have to try to digest all the information and plan out the next step.

“Mentally it’s draining but you have to realise it’s ok to feel low.”

A marathon, not a sprint

After the initial shock, Lysa was able to call on her sports background: “Being a golf professional and playing at the highest level, I know it takes time to build the technique required to become extremely skilful. It’s not months but years.

“Self-discipline is paramount but there’s no guarantee you will successfully pull off that long drive or that six feet putt for the tournament. It’s all with the ‘golfing gods’.

Lysa Jones standing on a golf green with some golf clubs“There’s success and failure, you learn to lose more than you win, and you just accept the final result, learn from the experience and try to move on.

“That’s exactly how I dealt with my treatment. When I was diagnosed in 2019, I kept saying ‘what if?’. What if it’s really bad? What if it’s worse than I think? What if I die? I can’t die, I’m too young.

“I felt myself pressing the self-destruct button. But then I thought, I can’t control this, so I’m going to let the experts guide me. I’m not the only woman to have breast cancer, they know what to do, they have a plan.

“I knew I had to control the here and now, which is exactly how I handled my performance in sport.”

The power of focus

Lysa found that focusing on a few things really helped. She continued to coach during her three weeks of radiotherapy treatment, and she tried to maintain her cheerful persona.

She also took up cycling and together with golf, that helped keep her on track.

Treatment for the grade 2 tumour was a lumpectomy, followed by radiotherapy and medication prescribed for five years. She’s now fit and well.

Unfortunately, Lysa’s experience of cancer began a decade before her own diagnosis, when she lost her mum to the disease in 2009. She didn’t seek help for her grief and described having a breakdown while playing in a high-profile tournament that she’d previously won.

It affected her game, and she didn’t play golf professionally for 12 months. Eventually she realised she needed help, had hypnosis and learned to meditate. But sport was the biggest healer.

“I realised I had stopped doing the thing that I really enjoyed and that was golf.

“I started to play again, enjoying the challenges, and the focus returned. The competitive me came back, even to the point where I returned to the same tournament and same course where I had my breakdown.”

She narrowly missed out on winning in a playoff: “I felt so proud that day of what I had accomplished. I wasn’t disappointed as some people thought – little did they know the mountain I climbed before that day. Playing sport was the perfect recovery pill for me.”

The here and now

Following that experience and her own successful treatment for cancer, Lysa wants to pass on her knowledge: “Now I feel fantastic and I’m living every day as it comes, as you would when you’ve had this type of diagnosis.

“I’m still the same person as I was; I have a strong work ethic, I’m still extremely busy as a coach and I would like to think that I am now a sounding board for anyone who is going through it. I just want to get the message out there that there is success from cancer treatment.”

The benefits of sport aren’t restricted to those taking part at a professional level, according to Lysa: “Look at children playing any sport: they’re laughing, engaging, having fun, making friends, learning life skills. This can shape us as we grow and form our own destiny.

“We never know what’s around the corner but if faced with a cancer diagnosis I truly believe in the power of the mind, the here and now, not worrying about the future or the past.

“Have a go at any sport, you’ll find yourself actually switching off from the stress that life can throw at us, even if it’s for an hour. That is exactly what I did.”