The Open: Winning is all in the head says mind guru

IF, AS Brandt Snedeker is predicting, decent shots taking huge bounces on bone-dry fairways and ending up 50 yards off line are going to be commonplace this week, then the phone lines to golf’s army of psychologists are likely to turn red hot.

American sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella works with the worlds top players. Picture: Jane Barlow
American sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella works with the worlds top players. Picture: Jane Barlow

While swings will have been honed to perfection and putting strokes smoothed, what goes on between two ears will also play a big part in the battle for the 142nd Claret Jug joust and 16th to be staged on this particular East Lothian venue.

“On a course like this, it isn’t going to be about who hits it the longest. Hitting it straight is going to be a whole lot more important,” admitted Dr Bob Rotella, widely regarded as the game’s leading mind guru, having coached the winners of 74 majors in men’s, women’s and senior professional golf.

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“Course management is going to be more important than ever and players are also going to have to commit to every shot,” added the American, who has been commissioned by HSBC, one of the Open Championship patrons, to compile a ten-point guide highlighting the importance of preparation for the game’s biggest event.

“Getting a bad bounce and not letting it bother you is going to be crucial and I think that is going to cause a lot of the older players to feel they’ll have a chance. They’ll be thinking the playing field has been levelled.

“There’s a lot of tournaments where players can hit it as far as they want and as crooked as they want and it doesn’t matter. That’s not going to be the case this week and, thank God, because you need rough when the weather is as nice as this.”

Earlier in the week, three-time Open champion Nick Faldo cast doubt on Tiger Woods’ chances of kick-starting his major-winning career here by claiming the world No 1 lacked “self-belief” as a result of his confidence having suffered a “little dent” due to a fallow period that has now stretched to five years.

Asked if he felt Woods had also lost anything in terms of mental toughness in that period, Rotella, who also works in tennis, baseball and basketball, pointed to the 14-time major winner running up a triple-bogey 6 at the sixth hole in the last round at Lytham 12 months ago.

“What Faldo said about Tiger you could also have said about Faldo at times in his career,” he added. “But Tiger seems to have got frustrated and certainly forced things out of that bunker on the Sunday last year. That was unusual for him.

“He has seemingly missed more putts than he used to make as well. Players like him go through periods when they look tougher than nails when they are making putts. Tiger used to do that with incredible regularity but not anymore.

“My guess is the basic fundamental toughness is there, but it’s a question of whether he can trust his whole game to get to where he needs to be with his putter.”

Rotella works with both Richie Ramsay and Paul Lawrie, the latter having used his sessions with the Virginia-based psychologist to win twice on the European Tour last season, force his way back into the world’s top 50 and secure a Ryder Cup return after a 14-year absence.

“The first time I met Paul two things struck me straight away,” said Rotella. “One was that he has a great sense of humour – he came to my home in the States and people couldn’t believe how funny he was – and the other was that he still had some big ideas in his head, some of which he achieved last year.

“That shows you that it hasn’t got anything to do with age. It’s about being in a certain place physically, emotionally and mentally. I guess you could argue it might be difficult to wake up and feel as good physically as you did at 20. But you can still have a great attitude and great state of mind.”

Claiming the importance of mental approach can start as high as 20 per cent on the Monday, dip to as low as three per cent on the Wednesday and reach a peak of 95 per cent by the Sunday evening, Rotella believes the likes of Lawrie, fellow Open champion Sandy Lyle and new Wimbledon champion Andy Murray have shown Scotland is capable of producing winners on the global stage.

“I have worked with players over here who have been brought up to believe you can’t win these tournaments,” he said. “It’s funny because they tend to think it’s the opposite in America but that’s not the case, believe me. Most people aren’t brought up thinking they can win a major championship.

“There’s been a lot of great champions in different sports to come out of Scotland, including Andy Murray, of course. Everyone is born to a mother so we all start the same. It doesn’t matter which city or country we are born in. It’s a question of whether you are going to keep on dreaming and I think people either give up or start questioning their dreams.”

10-point guide to winning The Open

1) Build a clear and comfortable mental picture of yourself winning The Open Championship

2) Adopt the attitude that nothing is going to bother or upset you – you’re unstoppable if you’re unflappable

3) You’ve been training for The Open since you were a child – now go out and enjoy it

4) Be patient and accept every shot – from the first tee shot to the last putt

5) Trust your imagination – it will take you a long way

6) Mental toughness and emotional resilience will get you through

7) You’ve done your homework, now play your game – don’t try to be perfect

8) Be decisive and totally committed to every shot you play

9) Be in a state of mind where process is more important than outcome

10) Embrace the unique challenge of The Open Championship – weather, course conditions, the whole lot