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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

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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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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PNF Drills: How To Turn Onto The Golf Ball

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In this video, I share a great drill to help you turn onto the ball. This will help you rotate through impact.

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A routine to copy: Patrick Reed’s 9-second putting routine at The Masters

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A solid pre-shot routine helps maintain consistency and ward off the negative effects of pressure, yet it is very much an overlooked skill by most amateur golfers. In that vein, I was struck this weekend by Patrick Reed’s solid putting routine. Further, I believe that this precise routine, and the discipline with which he stuck to it, were the difference in his one stroke victory at the Masters.

I had happened to pick Patrick Reed in a Master’s pool, so I was delighted to see him featured in the TV coverage. Putting is typically 40 percent of the game, but it takes on a far greater importance at Augusta. Further, the significance of each putt and the pressure escalates with each round to a painful (to watch, and perform) struggle down the stretch in the final round.

I was impressed by Patrick’s putting routine in the first round and curious to see if he would be able to stick with it if under the gun. It was not that unusual of a routine, but it was identical and fairly quick  — 9 seconds from the first step toward the ball until striking the putt. My perspective on the speed is based upon players that I have studied in their major wins. Here are just two examples:

  • Phil Mickelson 2004 Masters: 17 seconds
  • Lucas Glover 2009 U.S. Open: 16 seconds

Reed’s routine

First, Patrick Reed uses a line on the ball to set his alignment. He reads the putt, and when satisfied, sets the ball and line accordingly before he finally picks up his ball marker.

  • He stands about 6 to 8 feet behind the ball, square to the intended line, facing the hole.
  • Makes two practice swings, with his shoulders, still facing the hole.
  • Steps forward, addresses the ball by placing the putter blade behind the ball
  • Sets up to the ball, a last glance at the hole, looks back to the ball and pulls the trigger.

I start timing the routine with the first step forward from behind the ball. If I were to include the time facing the hole and two practice swings, Patrick’s time would approach the two examples above.

Bottom line, I believe that Patrick’s strict adherence to his pre-shot putting routine enabled him to hole all of the meaningful putts in the final round that proved to be the ultimate one-stroke margin.

My suggestion? Have a friend or partner time your pre-shot routine. Once you have a routine that you like, practice it with every practice shot and putt. It may just carry you through the pressure spots in your events.

For more on Pre-Shot routine see my 2017 article: How solid is your Pre-Shot routine?  For a Complete Strokes Gained analysis of your game log on to www.shotbyshot.com.

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