The insidious narcotic industry destroys not only the lives of those directly involved but in many cases a much wider circle, the end result often being the destruction and waste of many promising lives and, at times, those of the innocent. Australian professional golfer Wayne Perske has incurred the wrath of colleagues, fine weather and at times other friends and many one-time admirers following his conviction in December for the possession and use of cocaine while plying his trade on the Japan Golf Tour.
Back home in Australia after receiving an 18 month sentence, suspended for three years, Perske is contemplating a life which is now unlikely to involve playing the game for a living.
Already committed to a new role outside of golf, Perske is now keen to ensure that what he has been through to date, and will continue to go through for perhaps much of his life, can be avoided. He is keen to involve himself in assisting others who could potentially fall victim to the same set of circumstances as he himself has suffered.
In October of 2010 Perske was caught in possession of a small package of cocaine while drowning his sorrows after another missed cut on the Japan Golf Tour. As the chances of him retaining his future playing rights in Japan were beginning to erode, Perske hit one of the many bars in the Chiba area east of Tokyo on that fateful Friday evening. As he reached for his phone, out from his pocket dropped a package that was small in size but gigantic in consequences.
An observant barman saw the package, rang the police and before long plain clothed policemen were questioning and searching Perske. "I never denied that I had it or that it was for my use," said Perske recently from his home in Brisbane. "They questioned me until around 4.00am in the morning and then I was placed in a holding cell with two others for what would become the next 25 days."
Initially Perske thought he would be in for a slap on the wrist but as time wore on it became clear that his misdemeanour carried grave consequences. "When I first went in there I was told by one person that I would be processed in a few hours and be able to leave. Then another said I would be put inside and not be able to leave that night. I perhaps naively asked if I could play the next week and was told I probably could. Then I was told it would be three days, then ten days, then finally 25 days."
The outcome has been well documented but essentially what it would mean for Perkse was that he would spend until mid November in a jail cell followed by a month on bail at a friend's house near Tokyo and finally to a trial which would result in him being convicted.
The presence of his wife Vanessa, who had raced to Japan soon after learning of his arrest, was essential in securing that bail. When Perske first rang his home in Brisbane to speak to Vanessa on that fateful evening of Friday October 22nd, she at first thought he was joking.
"I was waiting for Wayne to say he was only kidding," said Vanessa. Unfortunately it was no joke. The conversation was only for the permitted 30 seconds but by the time it terminated she knew her husband was genuinely in trouble. "My problem was that I was unable to speak to Wayne again until I arrived in Japan five days later and even then the conversation was stilted because it was carried out during prison visits and in the presence of an interpreter, a policeman and a lawyer," added Vanessa.
For Perske the phone call home was one he dreaded making. "It was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do. She (Vanessa) had absolutely no idea that I had any involvement in anything like that. Almost as hard was that I was unable to speak to her again until she came to Japan five days later."
With nowhere really to turn, Vanessa contacted the Australian Consulate who gave her a list of Japanese lawyers and one, who spoke English well and was based in Chiba, helped them right up to and including the trial. Of his own volition, Perske, his wife, Vanessa, and their two children left Tokyo just a few hours after the trial, perhaps for the last time ever.
Vanessa had stuck firmly by Perske's side during the nightmare of the previous two months, at times bewildered what she and her family were facing and the consequences that might result beyond the conviction which had been imposed.
So how on earth could a golfer who ten years earlier had won his very first event as a professional, his first event after regaining his card for the 2006 Japan Golf Tour and the best part of A$1.2 million over the next four and a half years in Japan, allow himself to fall so far?
The answer lies perhaps in the rigours of life as a professional golfer and the capacity of some to weather the pitfalls and ups and downs better than others. Not that Perske is looking for sympathy or excuses. "I've been punished for an offence that carries a stigma with it and I am not happy about that," he said.
He knows only too well the stupidity of his actions but he is aware also that over the last two or three years he was on a treadmill that had been spiralling out of control.
"It (the drug taking) was only something I did a handful of times and only In Japan. I have never even thought about it in Australia - in fact would not even know where to start looking for it. It was also only part of the whole story about my life but clearly one that has had a huge impact and has now been the catalyst for change."
The obvious question and one that I was keen to ask was just why Perske feels professional golfers are any different to any other individual facing life's difficulties? We all face battles in our own lives so why should professional golfers be a protected species and their industry given special support?
"It is a very unique way to make a living in that you are playing for survival every year. People who go to University or are, for example, plumbers do not have to go back to University or redo their apprenticeship every year if things do not work out. You are very isolated and are constantly on the road and away from family.
"A very prominent golfer said, on hearing of my situation, that he himself had travelled with an entourage of six others since he turned pro and he still finds it difficult and he is a single guy without the pressures of a family life. Your performances are constantly under scrutiny. It is easy for someone to sit back and say you are a choker or that was a crap performance or why did you make this or that decision.
"Some of the stuff we have read on the internet about what has happened to me since the arrest - well then all I can say is that it is easy for people to sledge others from the position of anonymity and without having walked in my shoes."
So how did things reach this all time low? "It is true that it appears on the surface to be a dream job and for many it would be compared to a job in an office perhaps," added Perske. "It is a great office certainly but the other side of it is very taxing.
"I lost my love of the game when it became such a grind to get to the level I needed to in order to compete. It is mostly pressure that you put on yourself admittedly but those pressures do mount. In some ways success bred pressure as it created expectations by others for me to achieve even more.
"A lot of guys are different and do not have such a problem being away from family but I remember when my daughter was little, missing certain milestones in her life and it truly upset me. Even when things were going well it was not so much a case of euphoria but more a case of relief. When I had a good result it was a case of knowing that I could then hang in there a little longer and the financial and job pressure was off even if it was only temporarily.
"I think that I began to lose my zest for the game a couple of years ago. I felt everything was a chore. I started drinking too much and there is no doubt that if you are unhappy off the course then it impacts your results on the golf course."
While Perske was still able to generate competitive juices it was for all the wrong reasons. "I became more fearful of not performing well rather than performing badly. The pressure was coming from not wanting to stuff it up."
A few weeks before he was caught in possession it was clear that things were not right with Wayne Perske. After making the cut at the Tokai Classic in Nagoya he recorded weekend rounds of 84 and 86 in what was a meltdown. "That was the capitulation really. I just lost my nerve on the course and began to realise that I had some serious issues. Not with drugs but more to do with me and what I was doing for a living."
Three weeks later and after falling apart over the final nine holes at the Bridgestone event in Chiba he hit the nightspot that would lead to his downfall. Clearly there was a personality issue and on his return to Australia he visited a councillor who suggested he was in the moderate to medium range of depression which is not the worst but one that left Perske unable to make decisions which were in his best interest.
"On reflection there were plenty of signals but ones I could not see at the time. Now that I can, I have taken certain steps and medication and I can honestly say that I have never felt better in years."
Vanessa Perske felt strongly enough about the situation she and her family found themselves in that she was driven to write to the PGA of Australia and Golf Australia searching for ways to better prepare young golfers for what lies ahead and to create a greater awareness of the personal issues facing professional golfers.
In part the letter said "I am writing this letter to explain a large concern of mine that exists in the Professional Golf body. Not only myself but other golfing professionals and golfing wives with whom I have recently been in contact, believe that depression is a major epidemic in Professional Golf, thus, leading to increased alcohol and drug abuse."
In an impassioned plea, perhaps driven by the defence of her husband's integrity and her desire to ensure others do not suffer the same fate, she finished by adding, "I am not ashamed of Wayne. People who know him will support me in saying that he is a good person, treats people well and has gained many friends, fans and sponsors throughout his career. I truly hope that this letter is deeply considered by the PGA."
The CEO of Golf Australia Stephen Pitt responded almost immediately and has subsequently offered Perske the opportunity to talk to National Squad members, both male and female. Soon after, Vanessa was contacted by the newly recruited CEO of the PGA of Australia, Brian Thorburn.
According to Vanessa, Thorburn, who has yet to take up his appointment, discussed the emphasis of player welfare initiatives in his previous role at the ARU and that from his early observations the PGA too was interested in doing the same. He indicated however that they were keen to focus on just how they might give it even greater support. Perske is now keen to look ahead and not back.
"I've said what I need to say about what happened but I am now keen to let people know that I am available to talk about the reality of life on Tour and about the choices and the pitfalls those taking on a career in professional golf will both make and experience. It is not so much when they are young and free but when they get older and have families and the pressures mount that the job becomes even more demanding."
Vanessa perhaps put it in perspective when she said, "Kids don't always listen to their parents but they will surely listen to someone who, eleven years earlier, sat in their position and would later fall victim to the dangers they themselves could potentially face in the years ahead."
On February the 7th the Japan Golf Tour will meet to decide the fate of Wayne Perske. It is likely they will ban him from involvement on their Tour in the future but it might be that his conviction made that impossible anyway.
Wayne Perkse's biggest contribution to the game however might now rest in what he can offer others. By standing in front of groups of would-be professionals as an example of what can go wrong he can perhaps assist the next generation in avoiding the nightmare he has just been through.
After all, prevention must surely be better than cure.
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