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Dr. Bob Rotella: My 10 Rules On Mental Fitness

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By Dr. Bob Rotella
With Alan Pittman
Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.
June 2009
Written by Golf Digest

01 Believe you can win.
I still remember my first major, the 1985 city championship in Charlottesville, Va. Back then I didn’t play a lot of golf, but I wanted to see how good the players in my town were. I shot in the 80s and finished third from last. When I got done, I decided to follow the leaders so I could see how my game compared. After watching them for 18 holes, my evaluation was this: They hit it farther than I did. They hit it straighter. Their bunker play was fantastic. And they chipped and putted better. But I left there believing that if those guys could win, so could I. I worked on my game, and over time I got better, including one winter when all I did each day after work was hit bunker shots. Eight years after I first competed, I made a 12-foot putt on 18 to win my city championship.

02 Don’t be seduced by results.
How can Trevor Immelman get to the 18th green of the final round of the 2008 Masters and not know where he stands? It’s called staying in the present, and it’s a philosophy I teach all the players I work with. It means not allowing yourself to be seduced by a score or by winning until you run out of holes. Instead, you get lost in the process of executing each shot and accept the result.

Before Trevor teed off on Sunday with a two-shot lead, he decided he wouldn’t look at leader boards. He had a plan: Pick a target, visualize the shot and let it rip. As Trevor walked up the 18th fairway, Brandt Snedeker put his arm around him and nudged him to walk ahead. Trevor told me it was the first time all day he allowed himself to think about the outcome. After marking his ball, he asked his caddie how they were doing. His caddie said he had a three-stroke lead over Tiger. Trevor said he went from being quiet and calm inside to thinking, How can I not five-putt this?

03 Sulking won’t get you anything.
The worst thing you can do for your prospects of winning is to get down when things don’t go well. If you start feeling sorry for yourself or thinking the golf gods are conspiring against you, you’re not focused on the next shot. When Padraig Harrington won the British Open in 2007, he got up and down for a double-bogey 6 on the last hole to make a playoff after knocking two balls into the water. Padraig told me he had a level of acceptance that earlier in his career he didn’t have. He said it never entered his mind that he might blow the tournament. His only thought was getting his ball in the hole so he could win the playoff.

04 Beat them with patience.
Every time you have the urge to make an aggressive play, go with the more conservative one. You’ll always be OK. In a tournament, the rough is thicker, the pins are tougher, and the greens are faster. The moment you get impatient, bad things happen.

The best example of patience I ever witnessed was Tom Kite at the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Kite had been 0 for 20 in U.S. Opens until then. On Sunday, wind gusts reached 35 miles per hour, but Kite didn’t get flustered. On a day when a lot of players didn’t break 80, Kite shot even par and won by two. In tough conditions, stay patient and let others beat themselves.

05 Ignore unsolicited swing advice.
Not too long ago, I was working with this player who was struggling. But a couple of strong finishes had him feeling better. At the next tournament he makes, like, eight birdies in the first round. Now he’s feeling really good. He stops by the putting green to hit a few, and a player he knows walks up to him and says: “I don’t know what you’re doing with your putting, but that’s not the way you used to set up.” A few minutes later another player comes over: “You don’t have your eyes over the ball the way you used to.” Now my guy doesn’t know what to think. He went from making everything he looked at to being a mess the next day.

You’ll have lots of well-meaning friends who want to give you advice. Don’t accept it. In fact, stop them before they can say a word. Their comments will creep into your mind when you’re on the course. If you’ve worked on your game, commit to the plan and stay confident.

06 Embrace your golf personality.
Some players like Anthony Kim love to socialize on the course. Others like Retief Goosen keep to themselves. The key is to find what works best for you. The toughest player, mentally and emotionally, I’ve ever worked with is Pat Bradley, the LPGA Tour Hall of Famer. She was like Ben Hogan — she didn’t talk to anybody when she played. She told me she didn’t have time to chat with players because she had an ongoing dialogue with herself. I still remember the day she called to tell me she was done. She’d been on the range before a tournament giving tips to other players. Later, on the first few holes, she found herself chitchatting with her playing partners. “I can’t play golf this way,” she told me. “I’m done. I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish.”

07 Have a routine to lean on.
I tell players to follow a mental and physical routine on every shot. It keeps you focused on what you have to do, and when the pressure is on, it helps you manage your nerves. A pre-shot routine helped Curtis Strange win his first U.S. Open, in 1988. Afterward he went home and watched the tape with his wife and kids. He told me they kept commenting on how cool and calm he looked. Curtis said to me: “I’m thinking, Who in the world are they talking about? They can’t be talking about me. I couldn’t get any moisture in my mouth. My heart was jumping out of my chest.” Curtis said he had so much emotion in his body it was unbelievable. He was working his tail off just to stay in the present, hit one shot at a time and not think about what it would mean to win the U.S. Open.

‘It’s easy to build up a tournament into something so huge that you can’t play.’

08 Find peace on the course.
When you practice hard and admit to yourself that you really want to win, it’s easy to build up a tournament into something so huge that you can’t play. I’ve seen amateurs not used to competing arrive two hours before their tee time and try to rebuild their golf swings. They become panicked practicers and try to perfect every area of their game. They get themselves so tied up in knots it’s ridiculous. Tour players do this, too. I’ve seen guys come to Augusta, rent a big house and invite their family and friends. When Thursday comes around, they start worrying: What if I miss the cut and disappoint everyone? The golf course has to be your sanctuary, the thing you love, and you can’t be afraid of messing up.

09 Test yourself in stroke play.
I’m a big believer that stroke play is real golf. I know lots of people who are good in matches who can’t play a lick at stroke play. But most guys who are good at stroke play also thrive in matches. When you have to count every shot, it’s a tougher game. Too often guys go out as a foursome and play “our best ball against your best ball.” That has its place, but stroke play makes you mentally tough.

10 Find someone who believes in you.
The greatest thing I’ve got going for me is my ability to believe in other people’s talents. I can see people doing things they can’t see themselves doing. Every champion needs that. Hogan once told me he considered quitting the game several times early in his career because he didn’t think he was providing for his wife the way he should. But Valerie wouldn’t let him quit. She knew he’d never be satisfied until he won majors. Having confidence in yourself is important, but it helps to have someone who believes in you, too, whether it’s a spouse, a friend, a teacher, or even a sport psychologist.

Read More http://www.golfdigest.com/magazine/2009-06/bobrotella_10rules#ixzz1fd8G7gpO

Read More http://www.golfdigest.com/magazine/2009-06/bobrotella_10rules#ixzz1fd83pFcL

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2 Comments

  1. CJ

    Dec 29, 2011 at 9:56 am

    I can’t agree more with #06.

    I play my best golf when I am alone on the course or when I am playing with someone but there is little to no conversation. If I play with people that are making a lot of small talk I need to separate myself from it because I’ve found it makes at least a 5 stroke difference in my scores. I guess I am an anti-social golfer.

  2. Dane Byers

    Dec 20, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    this article gave me goosebumps. i can see that the few chances i have to play in tournaments i build it up, and that while most of the time i have confidence i let to much doubt creep in to my mind. its amazing how we let the simple things go away and let in to much of the clutter.

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Instruction

A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness

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I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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Instruction

6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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Instruction

Is There An Ideal Backswing?

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In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.

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