Arriving at a premium chain restaurant a few minutes from Ottawa's International Airport for lunch, Andrew Jensen glides in wearing a leather jacket, dark T-shirt, and a hoodie. He removes his Wayfarer sunglasses and flashes a bright white smile.
Jensen, who turns 33 on March 28, is a professional golfer. He looks more rocker than golfer, but as the saying goes, looks can be deceiving.
He splits his time between Canada and Jacksonville, Florida, where he plays out of The Golf Club at North Hampton as he tries to qualify for a myriad of mini-tour events. He had status on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada a few years ago, and this summer looks to return north of the border to play a mix of the Great Lakes Tour and the Circuit Canada Pro Tour in Quebec.
So why, you ask, is a professional golfer spending most of his winter in a city where approximately three feet of snow fell in a few days time in February? And surely, why is a 32-year-old professional golfer with TV-star good looks showing up at doors in an upper middle-class neighbourhood in Ottawa's south end with pizzas in hand?
Because Andrew Jensen is not one to give up on a dream.
Photo courtesy Andrew Jensen
He's back in Ottawa to try to save money, get adjusted to some new antidepressant medication he's on, and look ahead to an uncertain future. If you order a pizza from the popular Gabriel's Pizza chain—it has about 15 locations in the Nation's Capital—on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, it might be Jensen who brings the order to your door.
He doesn't care what people think.
"I used to hate coming back to Ottawa because I'd run into people that know me through the golf world, and they ask me what I'm doing, where I'm playing. I used to be so afraid," he says. "Whereas now, I have those conversations and I love it. I get to wake up and be self-employed and do I what I have to do. That motivates me, how lucky I am."
When you peel back the layers of Andrew Jensen, as he did with the lettuce his cheeseburger was wrapped in at lunch (no bun; Jensen is a bit of a gym rat), you find a young man with a troubled past, but, hope.
At 16, Jensen tried to kill himself. He tried again two other times, including climbing to the top of an apartment building and nearly jumping off.
He thought again about suicide as recently as November 2016.
Now, Jensen is as an ambassador for the Bell Let's Talk campaign on mental health—he helped drum up support in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for the coast-to-coast Canadian fundraising campaign that raised more than $6.5 million in 2016—and although he says he loves doing that (as it allows him to both share his story and fund his golf career) he laughs when he thinks he's actually putting himself out of business, the more he speaks.
"You wouldn't get a cancer survivor to speak at your office. Having cancer, and surviving, is just 'normal.' That's what we're trying to get to with mental health," he explains.
But when he wakes up in the morning, he does it for golf, not for speaking engagements. He's a professional golfer.
"Especially if a girl asks me, I'm a professional golfer," he explains, laughing.
You would think that a professional golfer would enjoy hitting it around casually with his friends. But not Jensen. He says he has a hard time with that, even though he enjoys golfing by himself for fun. Putting in the work, versus the competition, is what he enjoys most. He has a tattoo on his left thumb that says 'Work Harder'—a constant reminder when he looks down holding a club.
Working hard versus playing in competition was an ongoing issue as he battled with his mental health challenges.
"You need to be so excited about that first tee shot versus putting in your hours working. That was one of those things that I think I lost with the medication I was on. I had been on the same stuff for three years and I was in this place of grey, nothing excites you. A birdie, a (quadruple bogey), it was the same," he recalls. "It was very easy to start the first hole very blasé. You need to have that spark, that fire inside. You'll make mistakes because you're not fired up, and then all of a sudden you realize you have to make up for those mental mistakes you made. That's how you stay around par your entire career."
"Changing medication, and trying to get a good balance of that allows me to salivate at a first tee shot," he continues. "It's a process."
For so long, Jensen says his mental health challenges owned him. He wasn't ready to talk about it in any capacity, and then he was thrust into having to talk about it in 2013, when the Mackenzie Tour ran a video feature on him that was picked up by Global News across Canada.
He struggled on the golf course with a spotlight now shining so brightly on his darkness. But with time, he's able to look back and laugh, despite his on-course struggles.
Photo courtesy Andrew Jensen
"People found out about my issues, there was a bit of a reprieve. They're like, 'Well, I can see why you sucked,'" he says, smiling.
With time, and support, he began to accept his new persona.
There's a golfer on the PGA Tour, Erik Compton, who has had two heart-transplants. He's known as the 'heart-transplant' golfer. For Jensen, he was the 'tried to kill himself' golfer. It was tough at first, but that is part of his story—one that he now talks about with confidence.
"I want to talk about my journey, because that's what people care about. People want to hear of the road and glean inspiration from that. Maybe it's nothing, maybe a ton, but this was the journey, and this is what it looked like then, what it looks like now, and this is what I learn and how I go about it. People can see themselves in that," he says. "It doesn't just go to golf, or it's not just about 'depressed suicidal guy.' People want to hear about how someone did what they did."
Maybe this summer you'll see Jensen on leaderboards across the country—he says he is going to try to qualify for a few Mackenzie Tour events in British Columbia along with his other mini-tour events—or on stage or television chatting about his story, or, maybe even at your doorstep with a pizza.
But you won't see him giving up.
"I'm 32 and I get to wake up and do what I love every damn day. If I make $500 or $5,000 or $500,000, I get to do what I love, and that's cool. I stopped looking at what other people do and I get motivated by this love of golf, and doing what I love," he explains. "I was the golfer who tried to kill himself. Now? I'm still that. But I don't fucking care."